PAHO funds Breast Cancer Survivorship Program

PAHO Breast Cancer Survivorship Program

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 29 March 2023 –The Pan-American Health Organisation/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), in collaboration with the St. James Medical Complex and The University of Trinidad and Tobago, has been assessing the need for a Cancer Survivorship Program in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean region. Professor Jameel Ali spearheads this project with coordination by Ms. Kristy Samaroo and Dr. Amalia Hosein from the University of Trinidad and Tobago. The survivorship programme focuses on developing lifelong coping strategies for patients with breast cancer.

Professor Ali emphasized the program's data-driven aspect, stating that it "meets the unique needs of our population of cancer patients as determined by analysing pre-project data from questionnaires completed by our cancer patients on their perceived needs". Informed by this data, trained specialists in psychiatry, social work, nutrition, yoga and meditation offer structured interactive sessions to build coping skills. The project team also formed a patient chat group for sharing patient experiences, which facilitated patient bonding. According to Professor Ali, these strategies "....improve patients' resilience in overcoming the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.'

 Dr. Erica Wheeler, PAHO/WHO Country Representative, indicated there was no official cancer survivorship program to support cancer survivors. Additionally, Trinidad & Tobago had a 5-year breast cancer (BC) survival rate of 74.3%, with a recurrence-free survival rate of 56.4%. Referencing the National Cancer Institute's definition, Dr Wheeler noted: "survivorship focuses on the health and well-being of a person with cancer from the time of diagnosis until the end of life, which includes the physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer that begin at diagnosis and continue through treatment and beyond."

The establishment of the programme involved three phases. In the first phase, the project team established an understanding and assessment of the general perception of cancer survivorship among survivors. This phase also examined a survivorship program's impact in Trinidad and Tobago as a model for the Caribbean. The second and third phases of the project included the evaluation of different interventions in a control and test group to determine the best approach to dealing with Survivorship.

Participants enrolled in the programme have endorsed developing healthy lifelong coping skills as promoted in the Survivorship programme. The feedback reflects how the programme positively impacted patients' ability to move optimistically through their cancer journey.  For example, one patient, age 52, with Stage II cancer stated: "Excellent and welcomed initiative in creating such a program. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I look forward to participating and sharing. Cancer is really a wakeup call, but most people have been taught to believe it's a death sentence. Once we are willing to change and improve how we live, pray and believe we are being healed by the Grace of God and change our bad eating habits, we will be healed. Thank you again for bringing this program to your patients. I wish it was done earlier when I started my journey."  This sentiment indicate we should not measure survivorship in terms of time alone(survival ) but also enhance the quality of life through lifelong, joyful skills development.

Special mention must be made to the team of professionals who contributed to patients' coping skills development: Professor Gerard Hutchinson- Professor of Psychiatry at the University of The West Indies, Mt. Hope Campus, Ms. Lyn Murray – Social Worker at St. James Medical Complex, Ms. Nelisha Hosein and Mr. Dexter Horsford – both Registered Dieticians at the North Central Regional Health Authority and M. Simone Kissoon – Yoga Instructor.