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Improving the cancer system – together

Emmie and AmyImproving the cancer system in Nova Scotia means understanding how the system works – and how it can be improved – for everyone involved. Central to that understanding, and to implementing effective changes, are patients and their families. That’s why Cancer Care Nova Scotia (CCNS) created the Cancer Patient Family Network.
The Network includes about 800 Nova Scotians who have been affected by cancer and have volunteered to lend a helping hand. “Network members are able to provide us with valuable insight, feedback and advice about the cancer system because they have experienced it first-hand as patients, survivors or  family members. Their insight helps us improve the system for everyone,” says Emmie Luther-Hiltz, Coordinator of CCNS’s Cancer Patient Family Network.

Member feedback, for example, has led to the creation of the Sunshine Room, a comfortable, supportive area in the Victoria Building at the VG Site in Halifax, where people undergoing cancer treatments can be introduced to massage therapy, reiki, therapeutic touch and reflexology. Because of the positive feedback it received from patients and families, other health districts have created similar supportive environments. 

Interest expressed by Network members about the need for quality cancer information, at a public level, resulted in Cancer Care Nova Scotia developing the Cancer Answers public lecture series. Four public lectures, on a variety of cancer issues, are delivered by cancer specialists each year. The lectures occur in Halifax, but are made available in communities across the province through video conferencing. The next Cancer Answers lecture, Long-term Side Effects of Chemotherapy – The Road Less Traveled, will be held on April 13, 2010.

Recently Cancer Patient Family Network members came forward to help CCNS assess how well health care providers work together in caring for patients. Jim Mulcahy, a Network member, was part of the team that organized the review. “It’s rewarding to know that your experience with cancer may help someone else,” he says. “I am always impressed with how respectfully and how earnestly the health care professionals listen to patients and their families.”

Listening carefully pays off for everyone, says Dr.Janice Howes, a psychologist and Psychosocial Oncology Clinical Leader with Cancer Care Nova Scotia. “Patients and their families provide us with valuable insight we would not otherwise have. That insight leads directly to improvements in the cancer system.”

Indeed, says Emmie, as members of the Network, patients, survivors and their families can help affect positive change within our cancer system. “The Network keeps members in touch with the cancer system; includes members when decisions are being made; asks members for advice and feedback; provides a venue for members to voice concerns; and is a very powerful and effective tool in creating an informed public on cancer issues.”

Participation in the Network is voluntary. Individuals and their families can join online at or by calling Emmie at 902-473-2637 or toll free at 1-866-599-2267.

“Our goal is for the Nova Scotia cancer system to provide quality care to people when and where they need it,” says Emmie. “The Network is critical to attaining that goal. One way of ensuring quality care is by involving cancer patients and families in system improvement. I encourage heatlh professionals to think of Network members as a valuable resource in helping to make the cancer system the best it can be.”

“Participating in the Network is also a positive experience for members, says Mulcahy. “Being part of the Network, makes you feel part of a community - a vital, supportive community.”


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