Alberta Cancer Foundation

The Importance of Community-based Support Programs

Patti Morris illustration by Jennifer Madole.



Studies have shown that individuals whose lives are impacted by cancer benefit from community-created support outside of the health-care system. Patti Morris, CEO of Wellspring Calgary, a community-based, registered non-profit cancer support centre, explains why community-created support is vital to the cancer journey, and how Wellspring Calgary works to create a comfortable, non-clinical environment.

Q: What is Wellspring and what does it offer?

There is a wise focus within the medical system on patient-centred care. Wellspring Calgary is an expression of this. We are co-founded by three cancer survivors who all received excellent medical care, but also recognized the need for additional and complementary supports and resources to help people pick up the pieces after a cancer diagnosis. Our Wellspring community, both physical and online, is distinctly safe, warm and welcoming; a place where people living with cancer can gather for support, compassion and information. Our programs and resources are evidence-informed, non-medical and non-clinical.

Q: Why do you think community support is vital to the cancer journey?

Those who come to us almost universally describe a great benefit. We’ve been exceptionally fortunate to profit from patient-led research through the Patient and Community Engagement Research (PaCER) unit of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary, that studied what works at Wellspring Calgary and how. These patients were motivated to capture the many benefits they experienced through Wellspring Calgary and their overarching assessment was that Wellspring empowers patients and caregivers to more actively engage in their own health and wellness.

Q: What are some of the programs patients can access?

Wellspring Calgary offers 90 different evidence-informed programs, available at no cost to anyone living with any type of cancer and at any point on their cancer journey. [Some examples include] educational, movement and meditation, expressive arts, one-on-one peer support, a stream just for young adults, as well as programs for children and caregivers. We are fortunate to have program leaders who are professionals and experts in their field leading our programs.

Q: How else is community-based support useful for people facing cancer?

There is important research originating out of Alberta, led by Dr. Barry Bultz [at the U of C], that recognizes distress in cancer patients as the 6th vital sign. [This addresses] physical, emotional, practical and/or informational issues and concerns that may impact a patient’s wellness. These important needs may be best met through clinical supports, such as the psychological counseling offered through CancerControl Alberta’s psychosocial team. Many patients and caregivers, however, may not have the need for clinical supports and therefore may find their needs are best met in a community-based setting, like Wellspring. We often hear that people appreciate our warm, welcoming approach. Many welcome a break from a hospital setting.

Q: During this time of social distancing, how is Wellspring connecting with its community?

We’ve begun offering programs and support through video conference and by phone in response to the pandemic, but also as part of our bigger plan to extend our services to those living with cancer in southern rural Alberta. Reach out and join in. No one should have to face cancer alone. Wellspring Edmonton offers support and services to the northern part of Alberta.

Wellspring Edmonton offers support and services to the northern part of Alberta.