Alberta Cancer Foundation

Overcoming Obstacles

Photograph courtesy of iStock.

The pandemic posed challenges for all of us, but it added even more unexpected obstacles for people living with cancer.

That’s why United Way Centraide Canada (in partnership with local chapters) stepped in to mobilize community support as one of three organizations administering the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF). In Alberta, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region helped support charities and non-profit organizations like the Alberta Cancer Foundation to serve vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

ECSF was first announced by the federal government in April 2020. Since then, it has finished its second and final round of investing a total of $350 million to ensure Canadian communities remain strong through the pandemic.

“We tried to get those dollars out the door as quickly as possible, and prioritized vulnerable populations made even more vulnerable by the pandemic,” says Allan Undheim, vice-president of community building and investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.

That includes people living with cancer who had to deal with additional stressors created by the pandemic. Being immunocompromised while COVID-19 is present in the community means not being able to take public transit safely or rely on volunteers for transport to treatments. Some had to isolate completely from their support networks who helped with childcare, getting groceries and, of course, social connection. Continuing to work is already difficult when you’re dealing with illness, but the pandemic caused another layer of financial struggle with shutdowns and job losses.

Thanks to funds provided through United Way, the Foundation’s COVID-19 Psychosocial Emergency Response Program helped cancer patients cover some of the costs associated with access to treatment. Based on need, the program provided accommodation vouchers during a patient’s active cancer treatment while Alberta Health Services’ patient hostels were closed. Vouchers were provided for transportation, grocery stores, Meals on Wheels services, support to cover utility bills, childcare during treatment, counselling services and more. Receiving funds to cover these costs helped cancer patients continue to receive their life-saving treatments throughout the pandemic.

Additionally, the ECSF contributed to enhancing and adding capacity to the Foundation’s HEAL-ME program. HEAL-ME provides live virtual exercise and health programs for adults living with cancer and survivors who are at greater risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19. HEAL-ME offers a way to stay active and healthy at home.

While the pandemic has been arduous, it provided the chance for United Way to partner with organizations like the Alberta Cancer Foundation in new and meaningful ways.“

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region was pleased to expand support beyond our usual partners,” says Undheim. “We don’t usually work with health organizations, and this gave us a unique opportunity to work with the Alberta Cancer Foundation and others to support at-risk groups.”

The United Way Network is well versed at providing emergency support, particularly after incidents like the Fort McMurray wildfires, offering clients much-needed help, not only in urban centres but also across northern Alberta.“

In an emergency context, we play a significant role for community support,” says Undheim. “Often, our help is related to food provision, transportation, emergency finances and mental health services. But there’s also these other important needs related to health that are ever-present and not necessarily clinical — even something like helping to pay for parking at appointments. It was really great for us to be able to do something on that front.”