As the Tom Baker Cancer Centre’s former spiritual care coordinator, Shane Sinclair knows cancer patients are much more than a diagnosis.
“We can put a person into a machine and tell them about their physical needs, but not the spiritual,” says Sinclair. “When a cancer patient’s spiritual needs are addressed, they’re able to better live with a cancer diagnosis.”
Studies show as much as 88 per cent of cancer patients want their spiritual needs addressed, but as little as six per cent feel health-care providers ever inquired about their patients’ spiritual needs, says Sinclair. “My goal is to change the way we deliver treatment to cancer patients, not only in Calgary but across the country,” he says.
For the past six years, Sinclair has helped change that by offering cancer patients and their families from a variety of spiritual backgrounds the opportunity to regain hope, discover meaning and find a sense of peace. Sinclair says that during his time as the spiritual care coordinator, he was “intentionally loitering” around the treatment areas at the Tom Baker and checking in with patients, often while they were undergoing chemotherapy.
“Our conversations often aren’t overtly spiritual,” he says. “Good spiritual care is about tending to emotional, spiritual and psycho-social needs; it’s overlapping.”
Sinclair created cancer-care education workshops for community faith leaders and developed an annual Celebration of Life service for patients who have passed away — in 2012, 150 people were honoured in a multi-faith service. He was instrumental in securing $1 million from the Alberta Cancer Foundation to start a province-wide healing art program, with the intention to create opportunities for local artists to display art in cancer centres and for patients to create their own art work.
In early 2013, Sinclair was appointed the first research professor in cancer care in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, a tenure-track position where he’ll explore why spiritual care matters to cancer patients and how doctors and nurses can improve it.
For one of his first studies, he’s investigating compassion. “Nobody has asked patients how we can best offer compassionate care,” Sinclair says. “Maybe compassion can be a universal language or medium for how health-care professionals can provide better spiritual care.”
Sinclair says his clinical work and research focuses on what matters most to patients, and often that’s also what health-care professionals know the least about or feel the least comfortable addressing. “I’ve been successful in seeing gaps in care and looking at concepts such as hope, dignity and peace,” he says. “These simple, but profound ideas make a difference in patients’ lives.”
3 Things About Shane Sinclair
- Shane Sinclair received the 2012 Canadian Association for Spiritual Care Award of Excellence for Research.
- Sinclair volunteers as the spiritual advisor for the Canadian Virtual Hospice, Canada’s most utilized online resource about end-of-life care.
- He loves to travel and has been to India five times.