P4NH Spotlight: Hopeful Connections
In 2011, 28 Alaska Native cancer survivors shared their cancer experiences during an in-depth interview study (generously funded by the Institute of Translational Health Sciences). When these survivors came together to discuss what was learned from their interviews, they immediately formed a supportive group! Most had never talked about their cancer experiences, and they found being with other survivors to be very beneficial. As a result, the group decided to continue meeting and soon named themselves, ‘Hopeful Connections.’
Hopeful Connections is a community-academic partnership between the Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) and the University of Alaska Fairbanks-Center for Alaska Native Health Research (UAF-CANHR). The lead academic partner, Ellen D. S. Lopez, MPH, PhD, is a faculty member in the Psychology Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The lead community partner, Freda M. Williams, is the Director of Community Services at The Fairbanks Native Association. Together Freda and Ellen coordinate and co-facilitate the group, which meets about twice a month.
Hopeful Connections was developed with the intent to achieve four aims:
1. SAFETY: Offering a safe environment for sharing and caring among cancer survivors and their loved ones.
2. FACTUAL: Sharing factual information about cancer and cancer survivorship.
3. AWARENESS: Raising awareness about the strengths and needs \ of cancer survivors.
4. TRUST: Supporting a new legacy of trust in research among Alaska Native people.
Although there is always room for improvement, with regard to these aims, Hopeful Connections has experienced wonderful success. This success is attributed to the group members who actively participate in the meetings and provide extremely helpful and constructive feedback. Much healing comes from the group’s efforts to integrate important cultural values, such as respect for others, sharing traditional foods during meetings, and placing emphasis on both individual and community quality of life.
Hopeful Connections has received generous funding from several sources, including the Institute of Translational Health Sciences, Native people for Cancer Control, Doyon, Ltd, and the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. In addition, the group is well connected to the local community and has benefited from the support and resources available through the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center. Although Hopeful Connections receives support from these diverse entities, the program is striving toward a sustainability that is NOT funding dependent. Instead the group capitalizes on the resources (such as meeting space and speakers) that are available within the supportive community.
Word about the Hopeful Connections support group is getting around! Through ‘trapline chatter,’ flyers, email announcements, newspaper ads, and radio and TV promotion, Alaska Native cancer survivors and their loved ones are hearing the message “You are not alone!“ As a result, the list of Hopeful Connections members grows larger by the day. Recently, the group created a Hopeful Connections Facebook page, and they are working to integrate call-in and telehealth options during future support group meetings. This will help provide the means to expand their supportive reach within the Fairbanks North Star Borough area (where they are currently located), and beyond to outlying rural communities.
Dr. Ellen Lopez, Freda M. Williams, and all who are associated with Hopeful Connections are continually humbled and inspired by the strength and wisdom shared among support group members. Although Hopeful Connections is still in its infancy, it is working toward sustainability, and can only expect continued success!