Friday, July 25, 2014
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Project works to improve First Nations experiences with cancer treatment

By Shelley Steeves

Senior Correspondent

FREDERICTON – A series of paintings depicting First Nations experiences with cancer treatment will be on display in New Brunswick hospitals later this spring.

The project is called “A New Path” and is meant to improve First Nations cultural sensitivity among health care workers in the province.

Natalie Sappier, the artist commissioned by the province, hopes her works will help to bring communities together.

“Cancer is a really big thing. It’s hitting so many, young and old,” she said.

But having grown up on the Tobique First Nation, she says seeking treatment is often a cultural challenge for First Nations cancer patients.

“When you have elders leaving their community for the first time to do treatment off their community and how it feels,” she said. “That can be a little bit uncomfortable.”

Dr. Eshwar Kumar is co-CEO of the NB Cancer Network. He says health care providers in the province need to be more sensitive to First Nations’ needs.

“I think one of our biggest challenges is that we are not culturally aware of the issues surrounding First Nations communities,” he said. “For example, death is an issue dealt with differently by different communities and one needs to be sensitive to things like that.”

That’s why Sappier was asked by the province to sit in on recent meetings conducted with First Nations communities, patients and New Brunswick health care providers and paint what she heard.

“I sat there and just listened to what they were talking about and put the core of what I was hearing on canvas,” she said.

The project was funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

“One of the things we want to make sure is that the front line staff in the hospitals are more aware of what First Nations issues are so that they can deal with them in a more empathetic manner,” Kumar said.

Sappier’s paintings will be displayed at the Dr. George-L-Dumont Hospital in Moncton and the Saint John Regional Hospital later this spring.

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