Local Cancer Research Highlights Women's Issues

14 October 2011

Charlottetown -

The Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division, is pleased to report on a study of Prince Edward Island women dealing with breast and gynecological cancers. This research provides vital insight into the needs of this population.

“Increased understanding allows us to assess how we can best ensure the needs of Island women are met,” says Lori Barker, Executive Director of the Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division. “We must make sure our support services, advocacy, and partnerships are relevant and useful to people dealing with cancer.”

The study identifies three main areas of concern: economic stress, fear of the unknown, and difficulty getting help as it is needed. While these issues may be common to many people dealing with cancer, some of the findings are specific to the role women play in our society.

Economic pressure created by loss of income and increased expenses is significant. While most women reported having enough or more than enough income to meet their needs throughout the cancer journey, 18% of respondents cite inadequate income to meet their needs during treatment. (This is an increase of 10% from those citing such status prior to treatment.) Many claim they are unable to recover from this financial setback, even after treatment is complete. Women indicated need for drug coverage and financial support in order to cover costs of travel, accommodations, and supplies related to treatment.

Fear of the implications of cancer is another main concern. “Many women feel it is not appropriate to discuss their fears with their doctor,” says Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, principal investigator and professor of psychology at the University of Prince Edward Island. “Others struggle with how to manage their family’s fear while coping with their own. For many, that results in bottling it up inside.”

The issue of getting appropriate help is a third area identified in the study. This includes understanding where to turn for assistance as well as the challenge of accepting help when offered. While information may have been provided initially, some participants felt bombarded by details at a time they were too overwhelmed to absorb them. They indicate a need to know where to turn as different needs arise.

Both privacy and pride seem to be barriers to women accepting help. One participant confided she would be ashamed to have someone come into her home to help during her illness because she was unable to keep it clean. Other sentiments include, “I hate to put people out” or “I’m not good at asking for help.” Many women feel their role is that of caregiver, not the one who receives care.

The study surveyed 151 Island women ages 36 to 94 who had experienced gynecological or breast cancer in the past five years. With financial support from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division, commissioned researchers at U.P.E.I. to undertake this needs assessment. Representatives from health agencies, cancer survivors, researchers, volunteers, and others involved in women’s health have reviewed the research with an eye to identifying opportunities for improved services.

“It’s validating to see that the information and support programs provided by the Canadian Cancer Society address many of the needs identified,” says Barker.

“The study reinforces the importance of connecting with people at various stages of their journey in an effort to meet their specific needs. We are working to ensure this happens and are confident others will respond to things they have learned from the study as well.”

Cancer survivor, Marianne Dehmel of Summerside is optimistic this report will lead to greater awareness and improved services for women. “I hope women who face cancer down the road will be able to get the information they need, when they need it. They need to know there is someone out there they can reach out to…someone who has shared a similar experience and can help them on their journey to find the resources they need.”

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Lori Barker

Executive Director

Phone: 902-566-4007