A guide through cancer’s journey in the palm of your hand

Renata Benc, Clinical Nurse Consultant in Oncology (left), consults the Belong app with patient-partner Nikita Boston-Fisher
Renata Benc, Clinical Nurse Consultant in Oncology (left), consults the Belong app with patient-partner Nikita Boston-Fisher

When Nikita Boston-Fisher was supporting her husband through his cancer treatments at the Jewish General Hospital, she used to haul around a thick folder packed with pamphlets and documents.

“That folder was my Bible—I was always referring to the contents—but it was cumbersome,” Ms. Boston-Fisher recalls.

Now, Ms. Boston-Fisher can cart around all the same information, and it fits into the palm of her hand.

The Oncology team at CIUSSS West-Central Montreal has launched a smartphone app to help accompany patients and families through their cancer trajectory. Called Belong – Beating Cancer Together, the app gives users access to reliable material from CIUSSS specialists along with a supportive community of cancer survivors.

“We wanted to provide patients with resources and support, and put it all in one place,” says Renata Benc, a Clinical Nurse Consultant in Oncology who has been part of the team developing the content of the app. “It empowers patients by giving them information at their fingertips, 24/7.”

The project grew from a partnership between the Segal Cancer Centre of the JGH and the Israel-based developers of Belong. Once users download the app, they create a profile and enter the code CCOMTL to join a “closed community” whose content is specific to our CIUSSS. This ranges from educational videos and health facts to community resources. Want to know what to expect at the Segal Cancer Centre? Need a video on nutrition during cancer treatment? Or would you like to find a group representing Canadians with breast cancer? You can find it all here.

Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the Segal Cancer Centre
Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the Segal Cancer Centre

Another part of the app is a gateway to a community of peer support—a type of social network for cancer patients and caregivers that allows them to swap information or share stories with others who have undergone similar experiences. The forums are monitored by Hope and Cope, the JGH-based cancer-support group.

When participants create their profile, they can use an alias if they prefer to remain anonymous.

Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the Segal Cancer Centre, sees significant benefits in the app.

“Providing patients with information and a way to connect with a range of their caregivers, and with other patients, will change the dynamics of illness and well-being by empowering our patients,” Dr. Batist says. “Belong makes this possible, and we’re proud to provide this enhancement to our care model.”

Users see advantages as well. Ms. Boston-Fisher says that the social network component of the app will be valuable for those undergoing treatment, or supporting someone who is.

“It will be a great resource,” she says. “This journey is something you only understand if you’ve experienced it. To be able to chat with people who are going through it, or have gone through it, is definitely useful.”

Karine Lepage, Clinical-Administrative Coordinator in Medicine and Oncology, adds that focus groups helped tailor the app’s content to users’ needs. “Patients who are well informed can take better control of their symptoms,” she says. “This can result in better outcomes.”

* The Belong app can be downloaded for free. Staff at the Segal Cancer Centre are available to help patients and caregivers download and get training to use it. Posters about the app are also being put up throughout the JGH.

*The Belong app was made possible with the support of the JGH Foundation and developed in cooperation with OROT, the JGH’s innovation hub for digital health solutions.