Holly Prince knew she wanted to work in the field of Palliative Care after spending two weeks at a Toronto hospital with a close friend who was dying of lymphoma, surrounded by his family and friends.
"I was an undergraduate student at the time and very distressed by the whole experience," she says. "I didn't understand much about cancer and no one in the family was talking about death and dying." In hindsight, she regretted not being able to be more helpful. After returning to Thunder Bay and speaking with her professors, she realized this kind of care had a name — palliative care — and that if she learned more about it, she might be able to "make something meaningful" of her friend's death.
Prince, who has a diploma in Native Mental Health from Confederation College, went on to complete a Master's Degree in Social Work at Lakehead University under the supervision of Professor Mary Lou Kelley. Kelley is the Director of the Centre for Education and Research on Aging and Health (CERAH), which is at the national forefront of Rural Palliative Care, Palliative Care for Seniors, and Palliative Care for Aboriginals. "Palliative care isn't a place," says Kelley. "It is a program of care for the patient and the family that encompasses disease management, pain and symptom management, psychological, social, and spiritual needs, end-of-life care and planning, and dealing with mourning, loss, and grief."
In the spring of 2008 CERAH, in partnership with the Kenora Chiefs' Advisory and the Fort Frances-based Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, received a $100,000 grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada for a project entitled Improving End-of-Life Care for Aboriginal Elders with Cancer and other Chronic Diseases. As CERAH's Aboriginal Research Coordinator, Holly Prince has been involved with a variety of initiatives relating to this project, including the development of a new curriculum to educate front-line health care workers. She is currently working to improve palliative care services in 12 First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario.
Prince is the first person in her family to graduate from university. She loves the field of palliative care, and says it has given her some of the most rewarding work she has done so far in her career as a Social Worker. "I enjoy teaching and breaking down barriers," she says. "I would never say I am an expert in Aboriginal palliative care; what I do have are certain skills that provide me with the opportunity to liaise with First Nations people and get them connected."