Alberta Cancer Foundation

Close to Home with Community Cancer Centres

Community Care: Donna Nelson, Linda Knapp, Dr. A Tawfik and Hope Meier at the newly renovated Barrhead Community Cancer Centre. Photograph by Jared Kelly

A cancer diagnosis can turn a patient’s world upside down. It can mean a lot of confusion and a lot of travel for treatments and appointments with specialists. Fortunately, for residents of Barrhead (about 120 kilometres northwest of Edmonton) and the surrounding area, things don’t have to be so frantic thanks to the Barrhead Community Cancer Centre.

“The ability to remain in their home communities, and to have as much normalcy in their lives [as possible] while they’re going through this difficult time is very important,” says Brenda Hubley.

Located inside the Barrhead Healthcare Centre at 4815 51 Avenue, the Community Cancer Centre offers local patients the chance to undergo chemotherapy treatments much closer to home, saving them and their families the stress of having to find a way to get to Edmonton or another larger centre to obtain the life-saving help they need.

“We know, from cancer patients, they need support when they’re going through this time in their lives and through this cancer journey,” says Brenda Hubley, executive director of community oncology and provincial practices for Alberta Health Services. “The ability to remain in their home communities, to be surrounded by family, to be surrounded by friends and community supports, and to have as much normalcy in their lives [as possible] while they’re going through this difficult time is very important.

“It assists them in their healing and creates that opportunity to be able to be at home in their own beds at night, to be able to walk their dogs – to be able to do all of those things that we take for granted in our normal surroundings. When patients need to leave their homes to go to an alternate site to receive care, that normalcy is gone.”

The Barrhead Community Cancer Centre is one of 11 community cancer centres across Alberta, and was one of the first to be established nearly 20 years ago. Most of these centres are located within other health-care facilities, with several dedicated chairs or recliners where patients can relax and have their chemotherapy treatments administered by specialized oncology nurses. Through Alberta Cancer Foundation patient navigator Linda Knapp, they can also access supportive care services that help with the psychological, physical, emotional, financial and practical concerns that arise throughout the course of cancer treatment.

“These patients all do have to go to one of our tertiary or regional sites to start their treatments and get that first consultation with a medical oncologist, who establishes their treatment plans and, in collaboration with the patient, confirms that they’re appropriate to receive treatments closer to home in one of these smaller centres,” Hubley says. “Not all treatments can be delivered in the smaller centres.”

Given that these cancer centres are serving local residents, they tend to be well-supported by the local community. For example, Westlock Bowl – 30 minutes east of Barrhead along Highway 18 – has been holding a Bowl for Cancer fundraiser for the centre for the past five years, raising a total of $60,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

“It’s extremely important” to hold fundraisers like this, says Susan Cloutier, co-owner of Westlock Bowl with her husband Don, “because a lot of it directly affects our bowlers, whether it’s them or their families that are going through treatment.”

The Cloutiers took over as owners of Westlock Bowl in 2015 from Carolyn and Garth Kohlsmith, and the first Bowl for Cancer fundraiser under their watch took place in January 2016, raising just over $15,000.

“What we’re basically doing is raising awareness that there is a facility that close to us that a lot of people don’t know about,” Susan says. “It’s not necessarily about the amount of money you’re raising; it’s just that you’re raising awareness.”

Hubley says that having that kind of active support from a community is very important to the success of these cancer centres. “It speaks to the primacy and the role that we know this centre has within a local community,” she says. “It speaks to that community’s commitment to supporting members of their community through difficult times, and providing the financial support to ease them of burden – be that in travel or in creating an environment that is conducive to healing in their local area, which is very important. When we explore the opportunities in communities to provide care closer to home, an important part of that is having individuals – be they health-care professionals or other members of the community – that are really committed to and will support the success of a centre such as this.”

With the support of Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the Barrhead Community Cancer Centre recently completed a major redevelopment project, giving patients and caregivers a dedicated space for treatment and healing – including a courtyard – and more access to specialized equipment.

“They now have access to a space that is for the purposes of providing cancer treatment. And whenever we have those spaces, it creates more opportunity as time goes on, as workload and patient demands or changes in treatments come along, for us to support that,” Hubley says. “So the focus and the work for the Barrhead cancer centre over the next number of years will be for it to grow and develop and respond to the local community needs as best as we can.”