Inspired by Mindful Mondays

Breast cancer diagnoses leads to Inspire Health plan

Cooking classes are a highlight at InspireHealth for member Deb Little. She discovered the supportive cancer care centre in Athlone Court last January after a Victoria Foundation grant allowed Inspire Health to offer free services to cancer patients.

Mindful Mondays put Deb Little in the right frame of mind for her week.

The Oak Bay woman starts with a little yoga followed by meditation.

Before being diagnosed with cancer last year she didn’t like yoga, preferring the vigour of cycling or running; now Little espouses the virtues of the gentle Hatha-like practice offered at InspireHealth, supportive cancer care.

“Especially with chemotherapy, you lose your balance, and you’re weak and you can be nauseated,” she said, adding yoga abated all those effects.

Little was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in January 2015 and headed for the supportive cancer care centre in Athlone Court. As a midwife, Little is acquainted with many in the medical field, including a founding physician at the Oak Bay InspireHealth.

“I knew about InspireHealth,” she said. “I also knew it wasn’t covered by the health care system.”

Her timing couldn’t have been better. A grant from the Victoria Foundation allowed the centre to kick off free memberships and renewals for cancer patients that month.

“We were able to pilot a no membership fee program,” said Amber Baker, a nutritionalist and the clinical director at the Oak Bay centre.

Athlete Court is home to their Victoria site, while they now have two others in Vancouver and Kelowna, all offering free memberships.

Within two months that year they had a 300 per cent increase in new patients.

“We saw just over 550 new patients and returning members here in Victoria,” Baker said. There were more than 2,500 new and returning across the three sites.

The Ministry of Health covers about two-thirds of their budget – the clinical costs but not operational – while funds raised through corporate and private donations combined with grants and fundraising initiatives keep costs at bay for patients and their families to this day.

“It’s wonderful to see it sustain itself,” Baker said. “It’s pretty amazing when a member is able to support financially … our members are incredibly generous.”

Little started with a physician session, who recommended a few introductory information programs.

“They’re big on trying to address lifestyle issues,” Little said.

As a midwife on-call, sleep was “a big deal” but meditation and “forest bathing” became critical to her wellness as she endured chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a bilateral mastectomy. “I always was into fitness and I hiked a lot, but didn’t really pay attention. It’s the mindfulness of it, you stop and smell those trees and touch them.”

She’s a proponent of the entire team of medical doctors, nutritionists, exercise therapists and clinical counsellors offering supportive lifestyle services to anyone living with a current or past diagnosis of cancer.

Cooking classes stand out. Little found it amazing to realize some people don’t know, for example, the difference between butter and margarine.

“I love watching people who are finding out about the difference between organic and not organic, it’s interesting,” she said.

She recalls a favourite fermentation class “all about gut health.”

“We drink kombucha and have fermented pickles,” she said with a grin. “That was a really good class.

“It was an eye-opener to me. I did think I had a pretty clean diet,” she added, noting she did get some good tips while watching others discover the health benefits of food choice.

“They can help you do research,“ she said.

When her anti-nausea meds weren’t cutting it, InspireHealth was able to help her research marijuana as an option – and it turned out to be a good one for her.

Then there was the counselling because, as expected, “being diagnosed with cancer, it rocks your world,” she said.

Learn more about the free programs for those diagnosed with cancer and their family members during twice-weekly drop-in education sessions Mondays at 3 p.m. and Fridays 11 a.m.

“They really are the first step in terms of everything we offer,” Baker said.

Those sessions led Little to her yoga, acupuncture, cooking classes, counselling sessions, library resources and up-to-date research papers.

“It’s a good complete package,” Little said. “You really get a chance to be with other people going through similar experiences. We help each other.”

It really comes back to Mindful Mondays and camaraderie.

Drop by InspireHealth, #212 – 2187 Oak Bay Ave. or call 250-595-7125.