Alberta Cancer Foundation

Supporting Rehabilitation Programs

By: Colleen Biondi

Illustrations by Invicivle_Bulldog, courtesy iStock

After a cancer diagnosis, many patients have issues with weakness, balance, sensation, fatigue, drinking and eating, voice quality changes, swelling, cognitive changes and, ultimately, trouble returning to work or school. But, with the help of rehabilitation programs, people living with cancer can restore these functions and get their lives back.

Christy Holtby, vice-president of philanthropy for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, says of the 29,000 patients who visit the Tom Baker Cancer Centre annually, up to 30 per cent require assistance from the rehabilitation team, which includes physical, occupational and speech/language therapists. Cancer physiatrists (medical doctors whose job is to determine what kind of rehabilitation is needed and to track patients along their journey) are also part of the rehabilitation team.

When the new Calgary Cancer Centre opens in 2023, rehabilitation services will be even more robust. The Calgary Cancer Centre will be the core of a “hub-and-spoke” model of care, offering the largest range of services and the most expertise, with smaller communities (“spokes”) also offering support. It will have gym spaces, state-of-the-art technologies to help assess lymphedema, touch-screen tablets to help with voice exercises and telehealth options. This boost to infrastructure, technology and knowledge will result in more people getting help in a timely fashion — all in an effort to get them back on their feet, physically and emotionally.

“The Calgary Cancer Centre will be the first centre in Canada to integrate rehabilitation in such a significant way,” says Holtby. “It will make Calgary a world-class centre offering innovative and research-informed cancer rehabilitation.”

Funders are the backbone of these important initiatives. Canada Life, for example, is a proud supporter of the Calgary Cancer Centre and is committed to doing all it can. “At Canada Life, we understand that cancer can have several challenges to physical and mental wellness,” says Stephanie Halligan, program manager of community relations for Canada Life. “With our support, the rehabilitation program can help Calgarians regain control in many aspects of their lives through their treatments.”

This donation is a single example of Canada Life’s commitment to the betterment of the communities they serve (the company donates one per cent of before-tax revenues to Canadian charities each year; in 2021, this amounted to $10.1 million). For that, the cancer care community is grateful. “Canada Life funding has helped our rehabilitation oncology team move closer toward realizing our vision of providing timely, patient-centred and evidence-informed cancer care,” says Marie de Guzman Wilding, the acting lead of Cancer Care Alberta’s Supportive Care, South. “Canada Life’s donation has helped our team acquire essential patient educational tools and equipment so that the cancer care we provide is safe and based on current best practices, enhancing the cancer-rehabilitation experience for patients.”