​Treating physical and mental symptoms helped cancer patient Jennifer Bell heal


When Jennifer Bell was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2015, she was shocked. 

For the next 18 months, she endured chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and a “brutal recovery.”

And while she is now in remission, Bell says healing is still a work in progress as the physical trauma also took a toll on her mental health. 

"Having cancer brings up a lot of other things in your life that you wished you'd solved or done differently because you're constantly being bombarded with the thought that you're going to be dead," Bell told UHN News. "It's a roller-coaster ride, emotionally. I'm going to die. No, I'm going to live."

Bell sought out Dr. Gary Rodin, Head of the Department of Supportive Care at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and learned everything she was feeling was normal. 

"To me, that was huge, to have someone validate my feelings," she says. "It's about knowing that mental health, and stabilizing mental health, helps you heal."

Dr. Rodin, who is also Director of the Global Institute of Psychosocial, Palliative and End-of-Life Care (GIPPEC), says depression and anxiety are common in patients with advanced cancer and they often go undetected and untreated by medical practitioners. 

But he and his colleagues have developed a new program at The Princess Margaret called Managing Cancer And Living Meaningfully (CALM) within the psychosocial oncology division of the Dept. of Supportive Care. It is also being offered around the world by GIPPEC in the form of training workshops. 

Rodin would like CALM to be a standard of care. 

"I don't believe psychosocial care is near as well developed as other forms of cancer care," Dr. Rodin told his audience at one of the workshops. "And, that's on us.

"We haven't had enough research. We haven't done enough advocacy."

The program helps patients with life-threatening cancer and their caregivers manage all the problems that come with advanced disease. 

It consists of six individual sessions over a three to six-month period with specially-trained therapists, including nurses, doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists. 

Currently, more than 1,000 clinicians from 20-plus countries have attended a CALM workshop.

"Psychosocial care is being taken much more seriously than ever before," says Dr. Rodin, noting that it is "one of the most cost-effective forms of cancer care."

To read more about CALM and Jennifer Bell’s story visit UHN News.