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Northern Exposure

A U of T prof aims to better understand the needs of cancer patients in Nunavut

In a career that has taken her from an urban intensive-care ward to the farthest reaches of Canada, U of T Mississauga anthropology professor Tracey Galloway is helping to change health-care delivery in Canada’s icy north.

As part of a three-year study, she will investigate how cancer care is delivered to residents in Inuit communities by collecting stories from 10 families who have experienced cancer. Galloway’s team will use two methods to analyze responses – a traditional Western approach and a groundbreaking Inuit epistemology called Piliriqatigiinniq. Translated, it means “working in a collaborative way for the common good.”

For northern residents, the experience of chronic disease takes place in a very different context than the one southern Canadians know. Twenty-five small communities are spread across Nunavut’s vast expanse, making it challenging to deliver health care close to home. For diagnosis and treatment, residents with serious health issues must travel to Yellowknife, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa or Montreal. “We’ll be asking people to share their experiences – what parts were positive and what supports could have made a better experience at home or in the referral centres in the south,” says Galloway.

The team will collect similar data in a related study about end-of-life care. “Many people die from chronic diseases while they’re in treatment in the south and away from family members,” Galloway says. The team will collect information about the experiences of patients and families, which health-care agencies will use to improve pain management, end-of-life care and family supports. “At any moment, there is some elderly Inuit person in a southern treatment centre who is hearing a stranger tell them that they might die far from home and family,” she says. “We have to make those experiences better.”

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