Tag Archives: Dawn Complete Health and Wellbeing

Exploring the feasibility of a virtual wellness program for women after cancer

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, workplaces and communities have been using online platforms more than ever before in order to stay socially connected despite physical distance. So how can this work in a wellness setting where support and connection is so key to success? We asked Dr Janine Porter-Steele from the Wesley Choices Cancer Support Centre and Dr Sarah Balaam from the University of Queensland about the latest EMERALD study, which is exploring the feasibility of the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program in Australian women.

What is the EMERALD Study and what are you trying to achieve with this trial? 

A team of leading Australian and New Zealand health researchers have been working together to pilot a virtual lifestyle intervention, the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program. This program aims to improve quality of life for younger women who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. We aim to reduce treatment-related chronic disease risk for people taking part in the study and to determine whether this is feasible in the Australian context.

How did this Study come about? 

Partner trials of cultural-and language-adapted versions of EMERALD are currently underway in New Zealand and Hong Kong. The aim of this study is to test the feasibility of the Australian version of EMERALD in a similarly-aged, representative sample of women prior to a larger trial of the program across Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Ultimately, we would like to see the wellness program embedded in clinical and community settings, making it easily accessible to those requiring post cancer treatment support.

Who can participate and how can they get involved? 

We are looking for women aged between 18 and 50 years old, who have had treatment for breast cancer in the previous 24 months, with no metastatic disease and have access to a personal computer, tablet device or smartphone.

Please visit us here to find out more.

One program doesn’t suit all – translating the WWACP in New Zealand and Hong Kong

Following the success of the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program (WWACP) trials in Australia, Professor Sandie McCarthy had the opportunity to take Women’s Wellness outside of Australia when she took up a position at the University of Auckland back in 2017. We talked to Professor McCarthy about why there was a need for Women’s Wellness programs overseas and how the programs have been translated to be culturally appropriate and successful in different countries and regions.

What was the impetus for translating the programs for different cultures?

In 2017 I took up the role as Head of the School of Nursing at the University of Auckland. Given my background as a chemotherapy nurse in Australia and many years in research developing the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program, it soon became very clear that there was no cancer research happening in supportive care in New Zealand.

The system was similar in terms of acute cancer treatment but, like Australia, it lacked the aftercare that women were crying out for. And the more I embedded myself in the system and heard from clinicians and patients, the more I realised the critical need for a program like the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program in New Zealand.

How did you adapt the program for New Zealand and, in particular, Māori women?

I started talking to Cancer Trials NZ, who traditionally dealt with acute treatment, but who were very interested in exploring the development of a supportive cancer recovery program for women in New Zealand. At the same time, we identified that Hong Kong women were also hungry for a program. We successfully secured a grant to support New Zealand and Hong Kong to work together to build up the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Programs to be culturally appropriate and address specific needs in each country.

We worked with community leaders, health practitioners and academics to tailor the programs. In New Zealand, the program we run looks very different to the one we run in Australia. For example, in New Zealand our sessions are run in a Māori cultural space in groups, rather than individual sessions, to recognise that illness is shared by the whole family rather than just tackled by the individual who is unwell.

In Hong Kong, where alcohol is not really a health concern, we stripped that out of the program and the approach we’ve taken is much more direct to suit the learning culture. The Hong Kong program also focuses mainly on gynecological cancer with a strong emphasis on sexuality.

And what’s next?

The trials in New Zealand and Hong Kong have been hugely successful and we’ve since secured two grants to develop Hong Kong and Cantonese versions of the program. We also secured a grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to develop a culturally appropriate program for younger women in New Zealand with breast cancer. This trial has just been completed and was a huge success, finishing 12 months earlier than expected, even though it started 9 months late.

We are also really excited to announce that we will be implementing our Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program across a major health service in Queensland and will start to train more than 200 clinicians across their public and private services.

For more information about the Women’s Wellness Programs, visit www.dawncomplete.org.au

Life after cancer treatment – bridging the wellness gap

With the launch of the Women’s Wellness podcast, we spoke to Professor Sandie McCarthy from the University of Queensland about the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program; its origins, its purpose and how lifestyle interventions can improve post-treatment experiences.

Why do we need a program for Women’s Wellness after Cancer?

The catalyst for the Women’s Wellness after Cancer program happened when I was working as a chemotherapy nurse many years ago. I would provide care for women over an intensive period of time and then never see them again and would often wonder what happened to these women after their cancer treatment. One day I ran into a lady I had helped treat and she looked really unwell. I asked how she was doing and she said that while the cancer was gone, she was left with heart failure. And this was many years before we fully understood the many side effects cancer treatments have.

So from that moment on, I started researching what happened to these women and was quite devastated as a clinician as to the after effects, and long term side effects, of the treatments that I had been administering. In those days these weren’t really well recognised – they are now.

Today we also understand that if we implement certain lifestyle changes, both during and after treatment, we can often prevent those side effects from happening or moderate their effects. And this was ultimately the impetus for the development of the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program.

What sort of lifestyle modifications can women put in place if they are undergoing cancer treatment or completed treatment?

There’s a raft of different lifestyle changes and modifications women can make after cancer treatment but what ultimately underpins success for women’s wellness is good psycho-social support. We’ve got to wrap these women in a support blanket, because essentially when they’ve left cancer treatment, they’re left to recover on their own – they are considered well. Many women don’t know what lifestyle changes or strategies to use to change their treatment outcomes and post treatment experience.

What we’re really focused on with the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program is quality of life and function for these women, and how lifestyle modifications can enhance that. This includes things like lots of movement, minimising alcohol wherever possible, eating a really healthy diet, getting enough sleep, minimising the effects of early onset menopause that is brought on by many breast and gynecological cancer treatments and minimising psycho-social distress.

So what can women expect from the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program?

The Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program is a 12-week, very supportive, lifestyle management intervention program, where we give a lot of clinical and psycho-social support to women. Throughout the 12-weeks we guide them through the lifestyle changes that they need to make in a very evidence-based way. So things like, what’s the best way to get your body moving, particularly when you’ve got pain or neuropathy; what’s the best diet to have – women who have undergone breast cancer treatment, for example, often come out of the treatment weighing a lot more than when they went in due to the nature of the drugs, so we support women to lose weight in the best and safest way. We also help women work through how best to manage the hot flushes and the sleeplessness that is a result of treatment-induced menopause and how to manage lymphedema, which is the swelling of limbs that can occur after some surgeries.

These are just some of the ways we support women during the 12-week program and we’ve had a great deal of success with the program. Since then, we’ve moved onto younger women with the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program because they have very specific issues around sexual function, fertility, social support and how to bring up young children in the context of this condition, for example.

What’s next for Women’s Wellness?

We’ve expanded the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program into New Zealand and Hong Kong and next year we’ll be developing a whole new program with Canteen for younger women and young men between the ages of 15 and 24. We’re developing a lifestyle intervention for them, which will be totally delivered by telehealth and designed by the participants – they’ve even designed the logos for the program.

We’ll also be moving into addressing issues like body image in our Programs, because a lot of cancer surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy result in a lot of bodily alteration that can be quite difficult to deal with, from the removal of breasts, lymphedema and stomas on the outside of your stomach rather than normal bowel function, for example. So we’re considering how to support women to develop a ‘normal’ lifestyle in the context of bodily alterations that come as a result of cancer treatments.

For more information about the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program and other wellness programs, visit www.dawncomplete.org.au 

Supporting women’s wellness

Researchers, health practitioners and educators from across the globe gathered virtually to launch the Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative – an international research organisation dedicated to supporting women across every stage of life.

Founder and Director, Professor Debra Anderson, said the launch marked a milestone for the organisation and for herself, personally.

“I have been developing the Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative for more than 10 years, bringing together the best minds in the field from across the globe,” Professor Anderson said.

“The launch of this Collaborative signifies a shift in how we view and talk about women’s wellness, with a stronger focus on evidence-based research that supports women with practical, research-based solutions to manage ongoing health concerns.

“Our research covers all the elements that contribute to women’s wellbeing, including exercise and diet, managing stress and anxiety, sleeping well and implementing positive lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of developing preventable conditions,” she said.

“We’ve translated some of this research into a number of evidence-based wellness programs – Dawn Complete Health and Wellbeing – to address specific health needs for women, including wellness after cancer and managing type 2 diabetes, which we are delivering alongside a number of clinical partners across the Asia Pacific region and in the UK.”

The Collaborate has several projects currently underway and recruiting participants across Australia and New Zealand, including the Entwine project – a screening tool for women with gynaecological cancer and the Kōwhai Study – looking at promoting younger women’s wellness after breast cancer treatment, particularly in women of New Zealand and European origin.

Professor Anderson said the Collaborative, only in its infancy, is set to make a huge impact on how we talk about women’s wellness, bringing more evidence to the discussion to fully support women throughout their lives.

“Our vision is to continue to work with leading clinical partners and educators to influence the wellness conversation, drive meaningful programs and support women to get the best out of life, at every stage of life,” she said.

The Collaborative is supported by several research partners, including the University of Technology Sydney, The Menzies Health Institute Queensland and Griffith University, the University of Queensland and the University of Auckland.