When Lisa Duke was going through breast cancer treatment at Red Deer’s Central Alberta Cancer Centre, she had an extensive medical support system and was consistently provided with information about her cancer and her treatment.
By the fall of 2017, her treatment was wrapping up and she knew life without cancer was on the horizon — but there was little information available on how this new phase would affect her. She began to look for guidance on what the next chapter of her life would bring.
“You just don’t know what to expect after cancer. Suddenly, you’re done treatment and life needs to go on, but you don’t know what to do,” says Duke.
So, when Duke, who lives in Penhold, Alta., learned about Living Your Best Life — a province-wide educational event designed specifically for those who are finishing or who have finished cancer treatment — she knew she wanted to go.
She attended the half-day Red Deer event, held at the Central Alberta Cancer Centre, last fall. For Duke, the highlights of the day included hearing inspirational survivor stories and trying simple yoga exercises. The event also helped her to realize that she wasn’t alone with her post-cancer questions, confusions and worries.
“I really liked learning about things that doctors often don’t talk about,” says Duke. “For example, doctors don’t always talk about what happens sexually to a person after treatment. At Living Your Best Life, important topics like that were covered, and I learned more about moving on with life after cancer.”
Launched in 2012, Living Your Best Life is an annual event supported by CancerControl Alberta Patient Education and staff across the province. Each year, it takes place at an average of five cancer centres in Alberta, including Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute and Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Typically, elements of the Calgary and Edmonton events are also broadcast via live video feed to cancer centres in smaller cities like Medicine Hat.
According to Debora Allatt, the lead for patient education and patient engagement at CancerControl Alberta, moving from life with cancer to life post-cancer (or to post-cancer treatment) is a big transition. Living Your Best Life aims to make that transition easier.
“During treatment, patients focus on their disease and their intense medical schedule. Cancer can disrupt regular day-to-day activities, then, all of a sudden, treatment is over and they have to pick up the rest of their lives again,” says Allatt. “Living Your Best Life is a visible, tangible support for this time.”
Intended for adults of all ages recovering from all cancer types, the event aims to fill a gap in post-cancer care across the province.
“We discovered that people were finishing cancer treatment, and then there was minimal support for them after treatment. They were feeling alienated and lost,” says Keira MacKinnon, an Edmonton-based patient education specialist with Cancer-
Control Alberta and one of Living Your Best Life’s lead organizers. The other lead organizer, Krista Marsden, is a Calgary-based patient education specialist with CancerControl Alberta.
MacKinnon and Marsden work together to ensure that Living Your Best Life highlights much-needed resources and provides invaluable support. The agenda varies each year and by location, but typically the half-day event includes the sharing of survivor stories, talks from oncologists and nurses about physical changes post-cancer, and “fireside chats” where speakers cover wellness topics such as managing fatigue, exercise and nutrition, handling stress and living with hope. The event also includes a resource fair where supportive organizations share information on their offerings.
Ultimately, Living Your Best Life supports Albertans who want to learn more about how to best approach life after cancer treatment. And for survivors like Lisa Duke, that’s invaluable.
This year’s Living Your Best Life event is scheduled for October 26. To register, go to bit.ly/book-cancerpatiented.