After meeting Linda Eagen from the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, I felt immediately reassured. This is a woman who, for more than 10 years, has worked directly with people who have just been told they have cancer. News that can only be described as devastating and life altering. And Linda Eagen and the Cancer Foundation team are there to help. Every day. 

Through Cancer Coaching, we are changing the way people experience cancer

So why did I feel reassured?

Because she is the driving force behind the team that is trying to make receiving that news a little easier. In fact, through the Cancer Coaching Health & Social Care Service they have developed, the Cancer Foundation has already helped more than 2,000 families who are facing cancer.

Ten years ago when Linda became President & CEO of Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation she worked with community partners, volunteers, and cancer patients to find out what the pressure points were in the system. What bubbled up to the top: a need for more person-centered care in our community. And, it was that feedback and discussion that planted the seed for Cancer Coaching. The Cancer Foundation then found itself at a crossroads -- historically, the organization was primarily focused on granting funds raised and they wanted to continue to fund important cancer research and clinical trials, but now they were also looking to become an active service provider, on the frontlines helping those who were touched by cancer.

I get a hug a day here

As with all of the women featured in oWOW articles on this site, adversity did not get in the way of Linda's plan. She is a strong believer in the power of what we can accomplish by working together -- and she, along with the Cancer Foundation team, forged strong partnerships with the regional hospitals, researchers, and oncologists. And she went to those who were impacted most by cancer, and asked them what they needed.

What resonated with those discussions was a need for shorter wait times, investment in cancer research, and access to emerging therapies and clinical trials. And overwhelmingly, they wanted support for the person as they experienced cancer.

This is my mark.

By working together we have created community-based cancer care. It's incredibly powerful to see the results.

"We are bringing the person back into the care," explains Linda. "We do that by focusing on what each family needs through this incredibly difficult time in their lives, and we give them tools and resources to improve their quality of life. It's the power of the Cancer Coaching experience. We are transforming local cancer care." 

When you are diagnosed with cancer you are overwhelmed with new information. There are more than 200 different types of cancers, and it impacts each person very differently. From the moment someone is diagnosed with cancer, they will see 8 different practitioners, and offered a number of different treatment options. In between those appointments there are days, and in some instances weeks of worry as you wait for results from a scan, or if you are eligible for a new treatment option.

Our goal is that every family who is in need of a Cancer Coach, will have access to one

"Cancer Coaching is changing the way we care for people," Linda states. "With coaching there is no judgement. We offer a Coaching program personalized for each patient. Our Cancer Coaching Team currently helps 500 families a year."

Cancer Coaching is based on empowerment, giving the person who is facing a cancer diagnosis the opportunity to sit down with a trained professional who can help them design strategies to overcome their fears and frustrations about the disease.  As cancer evolves so too does a patient’s needs and the current healthcare model often leaves many of these needs unmet.  Someone might walk into the Cancer Foundation and need support around telling their young children about their diagnosis; another person might need information on financial resources available in the community for those battling a life-threatening disease.

"These are not trivial conversations; these are life altering and very scary situations for people. And prior to our coaching program there was no patient support or help to navigate this path." 

I always wanted to make a difference

And she wants to do more. Linda wants to increase the coaching program from 500 families to 5,000. But for this she needs funding. "We are the first facility in Canada to offer this kind of care," Linda explains. She modeled their services after Health Care Australia and Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK. "When you help one person understand what's happening to them, they can better help themselves through their journey and have a voice," Linda says.

The Cancer Foundation has raised close to $60 million since 1995, with all of those funds put into programs and services that help the Ottawa community. The opening of the Cancer Foundation's Maplesoft Centre in 2011 showed remarkable vision and savvy. The Maplesoft Centre is a one-of-a-kind facility in not only in Canada but throughout North America. We are fortunate to have this kind of support in place in our hometown. "Cancer is no longer a death sentence, "Linda explains. "In fact it is now considered a chronic disease by many researchers and scientists. This is a huge shift in how we perceive and treat cancer."

Our donation dollars are making a difference in people's lives

With cancer information changing daily, Linda and the Cancer Foundation team keep informed on the very latest treatment options, research, and care options available, to ensure local cancer patients have access to the very best care, right here at home.

When the Cancer Coaching concept was first developed, Linda immersed herself in researching best practices around the globe, to ensure our local model was best in class. "I researched 38 different programs before we designed our coaching program," she says. "The focus is on providing complete coaching which includes emotional, physical and health coaching."

A mother to two daughters, Linda's life was touched by cancer before she began working at the Cancer Foundation. "My mom and dad were both diagnosed with cancer, among other family members," Linda shares. "I have learned that death is a part of life, and I appreciate life from a different perspective."

My goal is to have Coaching accredited and be able to help more people, perhaps expanding our scope to other diseases

When she isn't working, Linda loves camping and even has her own pontoon boat. She climbed Mt Kilimanjaro at the age of 50 and is signed up for the 1/2 marathon (Ottawa) in May of this year.

"I have seen the Cancer Foundation grow over the last decade, and its role has changed over its 20 year history," Linda adds. "We are a leader in community-based cancer care, and I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in a relatively short period of time.  To date we have helped more than 2,000 families with Cancer Coaching, and through our support of the expansion of the Cancer Centres at The Ottawa Hospital and the Queensway Carleton Hospital (Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre) our work is touching the lives of all those diagnosed with cancer in our community.”

Linda’s dream is to take what the Coaching team has learned through helping cancer patients, and transfer that knowledge to help those facing other serious diseases and illnesses.

For me, I know Linda is the right person to make this vision happen. Her work at the Cancer Foundation is just beginning, and already it has made a huge difference in transforming local cancer care, and her hard work and efforts to improve care for patients is only beginning. And for that, I am thankful.