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The Ottawa Hospital and Ottawa Senators team up to lift spirits of Inuit cancer patients

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Ceporah Evic (red jacket) and Vanessa Evic (purple jacket)

Ceporah Evic (red jacket) and Vanessa Evic (purple jacket) met Senators player Mark Borowiecki and his wife, Tara Borowiecki, before an Ottawa Senators game.

A cancer diagnosis is enough to shake anyone’s world. Now imagine the added stress of travelling across the country to receive treatment, leaving your family, friends, and community behind. This is what hundreds of Inuit who live in northern communities face every day. But a special relationship between The Ottawa Hospital and the Ottawa Senators is helping to make this daunting time a little more bearable.

The stress of being away from home can have drastic effects on a patient’s experience and mental wellness. That’s where Carolyn Roberts, Aboriginal Patient Nurse Navigator for the Aboriginal Cancer Program, comes in.

“Because these patients are staying so far away from home, their community and their family, Ottawa becomes this scary place that you only go to for cancer treatment,” said Roberts. “We want to give them experiences outside of the hospital, help to take their mind off why they’re here, and show them that there is more to Ottawa than cancer treatment.”

Part of Roberts’ job is to take patients who have come here from Nunavut out of the hospital for a short time. In the past, she has taken patients to museums, movies or Parliament Hill. Then Roberts had a chance encounter with Bill Ellam from the Ottawa Senators and Canadian Tire Centre.

Vanessa Evic (left) Ceporah Evic (middle), and Carolyn Roberts (right)

Camera ready: Vanessa Evic (left) Ceporah Evic (middle), and Carolyn Roberts (right) got a behind-the-scenes look at a Sens game, including a tour of the broadcast booth.

That chance encounter happened In June 2016 when Roberts was working with The Evic family. Mom Ceporah Evic and eldest daughter Deborah Evic went to Kanata to visit the Canadian Tire Centre (CTC), where the Ottawa Senators hockey team play. Deborah, a hockey fan, was receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital for glioblastoma, a form of cancer.

While looking for someone to take them on a tour, Roberts found Bill, who manages event-day operations for the CTC. When Bill found out what Roberts was doing, he wanted to make Ceporah and Deborah’s experience at the CTC unforgettable. He took them on to the ice and gave them an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour of the arena.

That day, Roberts made a connection that would impact her and many of her future patients.

“From the moment I met Ceporah and Deborah, I wanted to do whatever I could to help others in their position,” said Bill. “I feel fortunate to have the job that I have. If I can help brighten someone’s day, especially when they are going through a tough time, it makes my job all the better. The people I’ve met through working with Carolyn have changed my life. This is the least I could do to give back.”

The Evic family has spent a lot of time at The Ottawa Hospital in recent years. Debora’s two sisters, Julie and Samantha Evic tragically passed away from glioblastoma. Now Debra was diagnosed with the same form of cancer. Their youngest sister, Vanessa, who has the gene that makes her susceptible to glioblastoma, comes to Ottawa every six months for tests to determine whether she has cancer.

Roberts and Ceporah recently took Vanessa to her first game and, true to form, Bill made sure the two of them had the experience of a lifetime. As Vanessa stood at ice-level during the warm-up and watched as pucks bounced off the glass so loudly that they caused most people to jump, it was hard not to notice the awe in her expression. Watch the CTV story about Vanessa’s visit with the Sens.

From sitting in the TSN broadcast booth to meeting Sens player Mark Borowiecki and his wife, Tara Borowiecki, after the game, it was an unforgettable night for both Vanessa and her mother. While the two of them have a difficult journey ahead, Roberts and Bill were happy to give them a night where they didn’t need to worry about CT scans or noisy MRI machines. For just one night, the only noise they needed to worry about was the goal horn.

The Sens players also wanted to get involved. Mark Borowiecki and Bobby Ryan have met the patients and given them intimate tours of where the players go before and after games.

“It may only be a few minutes of their time, but it makes a world of difference to these patients and their families,” said Roberts.

Roberts and Bill have since worked together regularly. Bill frequently invites Roberts, along with the families and patients she supports, to Sens games. But they don’t just get to watch the game – Bill rolls out the red carpet, making each experience unforgettable. From ice-level tours during warm up, to post-game dressing room visits, these patients get to see the Senators in a way that very few have seen before.

Care is more than what happens in our hospital, said Roberts. It’s a holistic experience. Patients’ journeys continue after they leave the hospital for the day. Where they live, how they spend their time, and who they can depend on all play a role in their mental wellness during treatment.

The simple act of going to a movie or an Ottawa Senators game can improve patients’ mental wellbeing during their treatment. Roberts knows the impact of her work, and although it can be challenging and emotional, she is driven every day by the fact that she is truly helping patients, both inside and outside the hospital.

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