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‘Powerful’ narrative

Play inspired by stories unearthed in provincial breast cancer research


By Jeff Green

A play opening in St. John’s on Nov. 7 is based on research supported by the N.L. Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials Unit.

Dr. Kathleen Sitter
Dr. Kathleen Sitter
Photo: Submitted

The Cut of It stems from an extensive breast cancer treatment study led by Dr. Kathleen Sitter, an adjunct professor in the Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, where N.L. SUpport for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials Unit (NL SUPPORT) is housed, and an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary.

“The play is based on research we conducted about the experiences of breast cancer patients,” Dr. Sitter told the Gazette recently during an interview.

“The research was guided by the desire to identify opportunities to improve breast cancer care. While the research team came from different disciplines, we all believed in the power of stories and the influence of first-person accounts.”

Multidisciplinary team

NL SUPPORT awarded Dr. Sitter and her colleagues a Patient-Oriented Research Grant in 2016 to support the project.

The Cut Of It cast from left: Mary Costello, Laura Bradley, Amy Kavanagh-Penney, Wendi Smallwood, Yolanda Bliss, Ruth Lawrence, Lily Halley-Green, Allison Kelly, and Alexis Koetting.
The Cut Of It cast from left are Mary Costello, Laura Bradley, Amy Kavanagh-Penney, Wendi Smallwood, Yolanda Bliss, Ruth Lawrence, Lily Halley-Green, Allison Kelly, and Alexis Koetting.
Photo: Submitted

In addition to Dr. Sitter, the team includes Drs. Natalie Beausoleil, Alex Mathieson and Erin Cameron (an adjunct professor based at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine) from the Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Erin McGowan, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation; Dr. Gail Wideman, School of Social Work; and Rosemary Lester, the patient advisor.

As part of the team’s study, 18 women who received breast cancer treatment shared their experiences through short personal videos.

“These thought-provoking digital stories guided every aspect of the research process,” Dr. Sitter said.

“From these stories – and the reaction and feedback from health-care practitioners who viewed them, our research included several key findings.”

Research outcomes

The findings identified the different determinants influencing patient treatment decisions, as well as how accessible and consistent information delivery can mitigate emotional distress while also supporting patient well-being during breast cancer treatment.

“It is a privilege that these women and the research team have shared their stories with us.” — Ruth Lawrence

The findings also indicated that patient navigators can play a critical role in ensuring continuity of care, and how a ‘whole person care approach’ both during and after treatment can make a critical difference in the lives of patients. Finally, sharing patient stories is important to educating, empowering and influencing patient care.

The report will be available online by the end of November.

“We were looking for new ways to communicate the results of the research we supported,” said Kate Lambert, NL SUPPORT’s knowledge translation lead.

“We knew we wanted to explore theatre as a method, and the emotional, narrative nature of Dr. Sitter’s project was a perfect fit.”

The Cut of It is the result of more than two years of collaboration between NL SUPPORT, Dr. Sitter’s team and a community of artists co-ordinated by Ruth Lawrence, White Rooster Theatre’s artistic director, which produces work written by women with a focus on Newfoundland and Labrador writers.

Importance of stories

Alumna Meghan Greeley wrote the play, which is directed by Lois Brown, a fellow Memorial graduate.

Ms. Lawrence says her company is “delighted” to be a partner.

“Immediately, the stories touched me and I knew that there was definitely a theatrical value to developing a production based on this work,” she told the Gazette.

Cast members Laura Bradley, Mary Costello, Wendy Smallwood, Allison Kelly, Ruth Lawrence, Lily Halley-Green and Alexis Koetting, and director Lois Brown in rehearsal.
The cast with director Lois Brown (far right) in rehearsal.
Photo: Submitted

Some of the women featured in the play are seasoned professionals, while others have lived experience with breast cancer and are making their stage debut.

“All of us believe in the importance of this work and in the importance of telling the stories,” Ms. Lawrence said.

“It is a privilege that these women and the research team have shared their stories with us. It is rare that creators have such rich, personal and deeply emotional stories to draw from for their work. We carry the responsibility of this knowledge translation with great respect.”

For her part, Dr. Sitter says it has been a “powerful” process, and hopes the performance will resonate with audience members.

Free tickets

In addition to funding from NL SUPPORT via the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (CIHR-SPOR), The Cut of It also received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, ArtsNL and the City of St. John’s.

The Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 shows are sold out; tickets are available for the Nov. 9 and Nov. 10 shows only. The Cut of It plays at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s.

Tickets are free, but must be reserved. There is a limit of six tickets per transaction. More information is available on the LSPU Hall’s website and on Facebook.

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