New online resource hub connects women with network of support after cancer treatment

·3 min read

A new online hub offers a network of support to women with cancer living in rural areas.

CompassionConnects is an online hub created by University of Alberta neuroscience student Julia Craig, launched through the Compassion House Foundation. It's a tool for former guests of Compassion House, which provides accommodation for people travelling into Edmonton for cancer treatment.

The site offers links to post-treatment resources for patients and health care workers, along with personal accounts from other cancer survivors. The site also includes articles contributed by health-care workers, researchers, physicians, dietitians and psychologists. The goal is to help reduce the isolation some cancer patients may feel when they return home, and to support their mental health.

Craig started working on developing CompassionConnects last year as a project for the University of Alberta's Peter Lougheed Leadership College. Craig said she's had quite a few experiences with relatives in her own family being diagnosed with cancer, which inspired her work on the project.

"I was looking for a way that I could give back and develop my skills throughout the summer so that I could contribute and make a difference for something that's profoundly impacted my family," Craig said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

Leading up to the site's launch, Craig reached out to researchers and various health experts to ask them to contribute articles. What's most important about their contributions and the other resources CompassionConnects offers, Craig said, is that the information it provides is accessible and easily understandable.

"I think lots of times, some resources can be full of lots of jargon and lots of things that are a little bit hard to grasp," Craig said. "And what we're looking for from these experts is tangible pieces of advice that these women can implement."

Craig said CompassionConnects will be continually updated with new articles, and they're looking for experts to contribute to the site. The topics they plan to cover include anxiety and depression, managing treatment side-effects, body positivity and exercise.

The women who stay at Compassion House come from mainly from northern and central Alberta, and sometimes from rural Saskatchewan or Yukon. Craig said that without Compassion House, these people would often have to return alone to hotel rooms after their treatment in Edmonton, and Compassion House instead offers a group of women who understand what they're going through.

Supplied by Julia Craig
Supplied by Julia Craig

Michelle Okere, CEO of the Compassion House Foundation, said the people who've stayed at Compassion House have asked in the past for a service like this, as often they return home to a community where they may not have a network of support like they found at Compassion House.

"Once they return home, it's kind of trying to establish a new normal to restart your life after cancer," Okere said.

"The reality is we focus so much on the physical health journey, and that mental health and emotional well-being aspect of it is kind of ignored through the process. So when they return home, they struggle with things like anxiety and depression and PTSD."

Okere said for past guests from communities that don't have access to many of these resources, otherwise CompassionConnects helps them feel more like part of a community.