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Verena Wu – helping Chinese cancer patients and their caregivers access better healthcare

By Linda Music

Verena Wu’s story is not new. It is the story of many migrant children who, at an early age, became their parent’s voice, helping them maneuver through daily cultural and language barriers.

What makes Verena’s experience different is what she’s chosen to do with it.

When her father needed to have major heart surgery, Verena realised that his needs weren’t just about having access to interpreted health information but rather were multi-faceted.

“He needed help learning how to look for health information, evaluate the reliability of that information, and understand what to do to keep himself well,” explains Verena.

Working as a Research Assistant in Ingham’s Psycho-Oncology team, Verena became aware that her experiences were of interest to the team and so began her PhD research into the development of a culturally appropriate self-management resource (WeCope) for Chinese-Australian immigrants affected by cancer.

“The work of the team, particularly my supervisors Afaf Girgis and Ben Smith, inspired me to work in an area which I am passionate about.  That is, helping immigrants overcome the linguistic and cultural barriers that are impeding their ability to access quality health care.

“My PhD showed that my family’s story was common. Like my parents, many other immigrants share the same struggles of not knowing how and where to seek support,” Verena explains.

As part of her PhD, Verena conducted a systematic review of the literature into the unmet needs of Chinese patients and their caregivers. Her paper “The unmet supportive care needs of Chinese patients and caregivers affected by cancer: A systematic review” was published in the European Journal of Cancer Care this year.

From her research, Verena found that Chinese patients and caregivers most commonly reported unmet needs in relation to the health care system and information provision. The findings of the review showed that immigrant patients wanted more information on treatment and available support, and caregivers wanted more accurate and consistent information about cancer.

Verena observed that there is available information for Chinese patients but it is of specific type and did not include aspects of self-care management.

“Although there is translated information available, we wanted to go further than to just give information about cancer. We want to empower immigrants by giving them practical strategies they can use to manage their wellbeing and everyday life roles.”

To that end, Verena developed a self-management resource for Chinese cancer patients and their caregivers.

“WeCope is comprised of six booklets containing practical suggestions and strategies for Chinese patients and caregivers. The booklets cover a range of topics including how to communicate effectively with their healthcare team, make informed treatment decisions, manage their physical and psychological wellbeing, manage interpersonal relationships, as well as knowing how to find and access additional support.”

The resources will be used in a pilot trial with Chinese cancer patients.

“We want to see how effective these resources are at reducing distress and enhancing self-efficacy among Chinese patients. Our findings will inform further refinements of the resource.”