French people

Support mental health in the mother tongue

Cancer patients cared for by paramedical professionals

Renée Saurette is a Psychosocial Oncology Clinician at CancerCare Manitoba

Being a source of light and comfort during the darkest times in someone’s life motivates Renée Saurette and her colleagues at CancerCare Manitoba every day.

Saurette is a Psychosocial Oncology Clinician for Patient and Family Support Services and spends her days working with people living with cancer and their families before, during and after a cancer diagnosis.

“Most of my job is to emotionally support patients and their families,” Saurette said. “Obviously, a lot of feelings can arise in people when faced with this type of diagnosis and all that it can entail.

“It is both an honor and a privilege to accompany people on this journey, whether it is providing emotional support or meeting more practical needs, such as applying for disability benefits if they have to take time off work. It is absolutely rewarding and truly meaningful work and I feel lucky to be in this role.

Saurette offers individual support, as well as group counseling options, including art therapy. She and her colleagues are also offering general information sessions, currently in virtual form. She has seen firsthand the support these programs provide to patients and their families as they navigate the difficult road to a cancer diagnosis.

“For people dealing with cancer, this can be a really scary time. In my role, I support them through the unknowns and offer myself up for open and honest conversations,” Saurette said. “Some people have a hard time talking openly and honestly with their family and friends because they don’t want to burden them or protect them. I had the privilege of being someone they felt they could open up to.

As a French speaker, Saurette’s comfort in French and English allows her to help French speaking patients and their families have conversations about some of their most intimate and vulnerable feelings in their native language.

“Each of us can relate to how frightening it is to have emotional conversations about our health with medical professionals,” she said. “It’s easier to speak and express yourself in your mother tongue. This is why the option is given to all French-speaking clients or family members to choose to have their care provided in French if they wish,” she said.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced some changes in the way Saurette and his colleagues worked, it did not change their commitment to patient care or affect the support they were able to offer.

“During the pandemic, we have moved to virtual and phone visits,” she said. “For some this could have meant more one-on-one counselling, for others it meant talking with family members, either alongside their loved one or in the virtual support groups we offer.”

However Saurette is able to interact with the patients and families she meets, it is her ability to accompany people in their grieving process that gives meaning and value to her role. Whether through the art therapy program, the support group for caregivers or the support group specifically adapted for clients with gynecological cancer, these interactions mean the most to Saurette in her daily work.

“In our society, we find it difficult to talk about illnesses such as cancer and loss – sometimes making others feel like they should go through their emotions quickly,” Saurette acknowledged. “But allowing people to have the space and permission to talk about their cancer experience can really heal and give clients the message that what they are going through is normal.”

As an allied health professional, Saurette enjoys being part of the bigger picture of cancer patient care and treatment and is grateful to work as part of a diverse team of healthcare professionals.

“A lot of us come from different backgrounds like social work or counseling,” Saurette said. “Everyone has such a unique skill set and we complement each other so well. If someone gets stuck or finds themselves in an unfamiliar situation, we can brainstorm ideas with each other.

“Our team is truly empathetic and passionate about their practice and committed to their work. It’s a really rich and dynamic group,” she added. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in mental health counseling and support services from CancerCare Manitoba, call 204-787-2109 to refer you to the free program .

From November 6 to 12, Manitoba’s health service delivery organizations are celebrating the diverse and highly specialized skills of allied health professionals in our province. Representing nearly 200 disciplines working in all sectors and areas of our health care system, allied health professionals are essential members of our health care teams.

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