When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Catherine Grand-Scrutton knew that the B.C. Cancer Agency was about to mobilize its tremendous resources to help her.
But while she willingly put her trust in the healthcare system, she didn’t want to be defined simply as a “patient.”
“I wanted to feel proactive, that, yes, you get on the BCCA conveyor belt and go into the system, but I also wanted to make it my project,” she says. “I didn’t want to just be a passenger.”
After her first “Oh my God, I have cancer!” reaction, she turned to books for guidance. She quickly realized that the ones that appealed to her the most — such as Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do — were about integrated care.
She’s had a can-do approach ever since.
Today, almost two years after her diagnosis, she feels healthier than ever before. She gives a lot of the credit for that to InspireHealth, a not-for-profit supportive cancer care organization based on West Eighth Avenue in Vancouver.
Ever since the provincial government started partially funding its operational costs in 2014, InspireHealth’s services have been free to anyone in B.C. who has cancer, as well as the people who support them. Grand-Scrutton signed up for everything InspireHealth has to offer, including exercise, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture for chemo side effects, nutrition counselling, cooking classes, farmers’ market tours and art expression.
“I think it is really important to feel like you are somewhat in control of your healing process. The less you identify yourself as a sick person, the healthier you’ll be. If I had stayed in bed, if I hadn’t had somewhere to go, a schedule, I think I would have felt much worse. I truly believe that getting up and moving made all the difference.”
“But InspireHealth also lets you have the bad days,” adds Grand-Scrutton, who celebrated her 50th birthday in the midst of chemo. “You don’t want to be sick but you have permission to be. It’s a very accepting environment. There’s a deep sense of connection between us because we’ve shared similar experiences.
“For me, the sense of belonging is a huge thing. When you are not working, you’re not connecting with co-workers every day. Your friends and family are there for you but they really don’t know what you’re going through or how you feel. When you’re at Inspire Health you feel normal.”
InspireHealth inspires rather than dictates. Its approaches are based on empirical evidence, but once the information is provided, people can make their own decisions on how to move forward. “You don’t need to buy into anything,” Grand-Scrutton says. “Not everyone has to eat fermented foods or do yoga or practise meditation. Everything’s an offering — a choice.”
The approach is also affirming. The dress code at the yoga classes, for instance, is more leggings and T-shirts than Lululemon and ponytails. “You can modify the class so that anyone can do it. A sick person can do it next to a really fit person. They tell you that you can have a nap if that’s what you really need.”
And when you take off your wig so it doesn’t fall off in downward dog, no one is shocked by your bald head.
Every week when Grand-Scrutton was off work — she was a visual manager with the Bay and is now a visual merchandiser with Siga International — she’d head to Inspire Health at least four times a week, sometimes five. For the four months of her chemo, she also took part in UBC studies that looked at the benefits of exercising during chemo, which she found hugely beneficial.
“I’d would get up in the morning and feel s**** but halfway through the workout I’d think, ‘Oh. I can do this.’
“I was apprehensive about chemo and in the end it was not as bad as I thought it would be. When you allow all these positive things, such as Inspire Health and the exercise study, into what could be a negative experience, they balance each other out. ‘Oh, I’m having a bad day but I’m going to be seeing my friends and doing art therapy and yoga and they’ll understand what I’m going through’… It’s all a mystery as far as what worked for me but why not have everything at your disposal and why not have the choices?”
To find out more about Inspire Health’s philosophy and programming, go to InspireHealth.ca. It has offices in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna. It also schedules its LIFE program at various locations throughout the Lower Mainland. For information on the UBC chemo and exercise study, go to cepl.rehab.med.ubc.ca.
A cruel irony with breast cancer is that chemotherapy often causes you to lose your hair.
Before it falls out, women are encouraged to cut it short. That task fell to Catherine Grand-Scrutton’s husband, Jeff Remfert, and it’s an experience that brought them even closer together.
“I was really glad Jeff wanted to do it for me,” she says. “Afterwards, he was trying to convince me that it looked cute. He told me that it was a very nice pixie cut and he’s been calling me Pixie ever since.’”
Accustomed to being a long-haired auburn, Grand-Scrutton said she cried when she looked at herself in the mirror afterwards. “It was symbolic of so many things. I was about to become one of those ‘bald people’ and, when I was growing up, that meant you might die. I wasn’t scared but it was ‘wow, this is really happening.’”
These are Catherine Grand-Scrutton’s three go-to Inspire Health recipes — and how she adapts them.
Every single ingredient is healthy and beneficial, and you can add whatever veggies you have on hand. It’s a great way to get leafy greens and high protein legumes together in the winter when we tend to eat fewer salads. Turmeric has cancer-fighting properties and for even more protein I often add some free-range chicken.
For something so clean and nutritious it has a decadent taste and feel… rich and creamy and slightly sweet. I make it in my crock pot and increase the curry paste for a more distinctly Thai flavour.
This is a staple, and a healthy option when I feel like baked goods. Like, every day! Obviously, no preservatives or additives you’d find in the store-bought variety. Really easy, and fun to change up. I like that it’s primarily sweetened with apple sauce. Sometimes I add nuts, change the dried fruit (cherries… decadent!) and play with the spices and sweet ingredient, i.e. I reduce the honey for my palate, and often switch it up for molasses or pure maple syrup.