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Wellness program helps cancer survivors thrive

Wellness program helps cancer survivors thrive

Nurse practitioner Gail Larocque (right) follows cancer survivors who have finished active treatment, as part of the Wellness Beyond Cancer Program at The Ottawa Hospital.

Carolyn Shelley has survived breast cancer, but where should she receive follow-up care?

Cancer is now considered a chronic disease, with an increasing number of people surviving, so The Ottawa Hospital developed the Wellness Beyond Cancer Program. Although still in early stages, it’s receiving enthusiastic support from patients.

“It’s helpful to see there are other people in the same boat, that you don’t feel alone,” said Shelley.

Traditionally, patients were followed for many years at the hospital after active cancer treatment had ended, for various reasons but mostly because of concerns that patients could not otherwise return quickly if the cancer recurred.

“We felt there had to be better options to meet patients’ needs,  provide follow-up care closer to home, and help them transition into wellness,” said Dr. Roanne Segal, Medical Oncologist.

The steadily growing program began with colorectal cancer and expanded to breast cancer one year later. Well patients who have completed active treatment are referred for follow-up care by their family doctor or, for those with complex treatment side effects or risks, by the nurse practitioner, before discharge to their family doctor.

Program highlights include:

  • An education session called “Living well and managing your health after cancer,” which teaches patients about common survivorship concerns, late and long-term treatment effects, and reducing risk through healthy lifestyle.
  • A personal survivorship care plan and review, which outlines their treatment, follow-up tests and outstanding self-identified needs.
  • Rapid re-entry for patients back to the Cancer Program for reassessment at any time.

After attending the education session, Shelley recently met with RN Carrie Liska to review her care plan, which summarizes her entire cancer journey from diagnosis in 2004 through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and brachytherapy, and the recommended tests for her follow-up care.

“My family doctor gets the exact same care plan, in case there are any questions later on,” Shelley said. “It recommends I have a mammogram every year for the rest of my life.”

The program also allays her biggest worry, which is what to do if cancer recurs.

“If there is cancer that comes back, you don’t have to start from the beginning again – you can get in there quickly,” she said. “There’s a number for the family doctor to call. They don’t drop you. It gives you some reassurance.”

Family doctors like knowing they can get their patients back into the Cancer Program quickly if needed. “It gives them the tools and the safety net that we all need to ensure best outcomes for our patients,” said Dr. Segal.

Shelley would definitely recommend the program to fellow cancer survivors.



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  • Nicole Martel says:

    After being in the Wellness After Cancer Program for almost 9 months now, I have to say I feel like I have been totally dropped and that I am left to take care of my own health. I am a responsible person and don’t mind taking an active part in my health but I am not a doctor. I so miss my oncologist cause as long as I was seeing him, I felt that someone had my back. Although my family doctor is good, I do not feel at all the same way.
    For example, some spots/cysts were seen on a scan of my pancreas a few years ago and doctors were to follow up with yearly scans. My oncologist would make it a point to review the results. I went for a scan in June that I had to hound the doctor’s office for many times. To this day, I am still waiting to get an appointment with the doctor to discuss the results. My family doctor was copied and knows that the spots/cysts had grown a little. When I asked her if she could help me get in to see the doctor, she that I should just wait for them to call me. That was June and this is September. The oncologist, or his nurse, would not have allowed this to happen.

  • The Ottawa Hospital says:

    Hi Nicole,

    I am very sorry to hear about this experience. We want to make sure that all patients within this program, and throughout the hospital, receive the care and compassion that we would all want for our loved ones. I encourage you to contact our Patient Advocacy Department to share your experience. They are here to manage patient inquiries, feedback and complaints, and ensure that patient and family concerns are resolved in a timely manner, in an atmosphere of respect, compassion and fairness for all involved. Tel: 613-798-5555 ext. 13377, Email:,

    Thank you,
    TOH Communications

  • Carmela Magliocco says:

    I feel the same way as Nicole did. I feel dropped like a hot potato, especially from my Nurse Practicioner at the Cancer Centre. I expected to receive a phone call months ago in regard to a last minute cancellation I had and have heard nothing from anyone. Seriously, since my oncologist transferred me to the Wellness Program I have had a rough time! I miss seeing him, as I don’t feel my NP takes me seriously, and always seems cross.

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