Métis Cancer Survivors: A Digital Storytelling Project

The Project

This project was co-led by SK-NEIHR Nominated Principal Investigator Dr. Robert Henry, Métis, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Justice and Well-being and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, with Dr. Chelsea Gabel (Métis, McMaster University), Terri Hansen-Gardiner (Métis, SK-NEIHR knowledge keeper), Story Centre Canada, and Metis Nation-Saskatchewan. SK-NEIHR Manager Fleur Macqueen Smith provided leadership and operational support for this project, in recruiting participants and ensuring they had a positive experience working with SK-NEIHR. 

The project explores and shares Métis cancer survivors' experiences from diagnosis, through treatment, and into remission. In their stories the survivors share recollections of their treatment, care, and coping throughout their journey.

The stories that are shared provide qualitative information that is otherwise very difficult to access and share, especially on a wider scale. By sharing their experiences and insights, the participants in this project have helped to start a dialogue, to share stories that create community and invite healing, and to let others know that they are not alone, and that there is hope.

The Stories

Terri Hansen-Gardiner

In a remote Cree community, Terri-Hansen Gardiner embarked on a mission to break the silence around cancer, advocating for awareness and education. Initially unaware of the complexities of the disease, a diagnosis prompted a journey of prayer, treatment, and newfound purpose. Determined to make a difference, she engaged with cancer care leadership, urging for support and resources for Indigenous communities. Through relentless dedication, she secured funding for a Northern Health Education bus, reaching thousands annually across 25 communities, bridging language and cultural barriers to deliver vital information. With unwavering support from family and a profound realization of life's priorities, Terri Hansen-Gardiner inspires others to persevere, emphasizing the importance of community and resilience in the face of adversity.


In her journey with triple negative breast cancer, Elizabeth reflects on her upbringing with ratroot remedies and her newfound reliance on faith amidst her diagnosis. Despite initial reluctance to confront her illness, her decision to seek treatment leads her to embrace her Catholic roots and rediscover the solace of God's word. Forced by her diagnosis to surrender her grandson to the foster system, she finds unexpected comfort when a pediatric nurse with shared beliefs fosters him, forming a close-knit, supportive family. Through faith, Elizabeth finds peace, transcending her fear of death and embracing the promise of eternal rest, highlighting the transformative power of trust in a higher power amidst life's trials.


In 2019, I began experiencing stomach pain and swelling, eventually leading to a diagnosis of stomach cancer in February 2020. Amidst the challenges of treatment, including chemotherapy and hospitalizations, the burden of expenses and travel logistics added additional stress. Despite the difficulties, I discovered support from the Métis community, including financial assistance and accommodations, albeit late in my treatment journey. Reflecting on the lack of accessible information and resources for Métis cancer patients, I advocate for improved support systems and awareness within our community. As a Métis cancer survivor, I emphasize the importance of tailored resources and support networks for those facing similar challenges.


Despite initial reluctance, Sherri's sister's persistent encouragement led her to participate in the polar bear plunge, motivated by her mother's battle with cancer. Anger and fear consumed her upon learning of her mother's diagnosis, grappling with the challenges of balancing caregiving responsibilities, schooling, and her own emotions. Amidst the struggle, a moment of levity during the plunge, accompanied by family members, provided a brief respite from the turmoil. Despite the frigid shock of the icy water, the experience proved invigorating and unexpectedly therapeutic, culminating in a significant fundraising success. Though unlikely to repeat the plunge, the event served as a poignant reminder of resilience and the importance of familial support in facing life's challenges.


Amidst the challenges of cancer treatment, including hair loss and relocation for care, Sophie found strength and support from her family and community. Initially fearing a stroke recurrence, a CT scan revealed stage three cancer in her lungs, prompting aggressive treatment in Saskatoon. Despite initial disbelief, the reality set in during hair loss, yet her daughter's unwavering support and humor provided solace during this trying time. Despite regrets about smoking, the Sophie is supported by her family's encouragement and the knowledge that she is surrounded by love and strength. With hair regrowth and a deep sense of gratitude, she faced her battle with cancer with determination and faith, supported by her community and her faith.


A breast cancer scare during a routine check-up led to a life-changing decision for Verna, who had a familial history of the disease. Initially reassured by the results, subsequent screenings revealed the need for a biopsy, confirming cancer. Supported by her sisters, she opted for a mastectomy upon their advice, prioritizing her health over physical appearance. Ten years later, she remains vigilant with regular check-ups, advocating for early detection within her family and community.


In 2010, Leonard faced profound grief and depression following the tragic loss of his son to suicide at age 19, a pain compounded by subsequent diagnoses of prostate cancer in 2019. Surrounded by the pervasive specter of cancer, having lost multiple family members to the disease, Leonard grappled with uncertainty during his own treatment journey. Enduring 20 radiation sessions, he emerged healthy, committing to annual check-ups and coping with depression through a combination of work, and immersion in nature and traditional practices like smudging. Despite occasional bouts of loneliness and sadness, he finds solace in his community and the healing power of the wilderness, drawing strength from cherished rituals and familial connections.