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The power of a peer

Hosted by St. Paul’s Eating Disorders Program staff, a peer-to-peer forum creates a space for story, truth and hope.

Diagnosed with an eating disorder at 15, Vancouver cardiac-surgery nurse and patient advocate Marlena Dumas had dealt with her eating disorder for more than half of her life when she resolved to commit herself to treatment, one last time.

“I had relapsed so many times with my recovery, and had experienced various stages of ambivalence — not being sure if wanted to recover, or if I could recover,” she says.

But the call of a normal life, where things like being a big sister to her little sister or falling in love, were possible — things that Marlena previously hadn’t been able to do with her eating disorder.

She found healing and recovery through the Provincial Adult Tertiary & Specialized Eating Disorders Program at St. Paul’s.

“I remember how hopeless I felt and I thought it was an endless battle. I was desperate to hear from people who were on the other side,” Marlena says, which is why now, more than 10 years in recovery, she speaks at the peer-to-peer forum, hosted biannually by the Eating Disorders Program staff at St. Paul’s.

The power of a peer

Due to the stigma and the lack of consistency in how it presents, feeling isolated and hopeless can be common emotions felt by someone with an eating disorder. These forums create a space where current program patients, people concerned about themselves or a loved one, and clinicians can gather to seek information, find hope, and ask questions.

“To participate fully in treatment there does need to be a level of readiness, a motivation, a desire to make change,” explains says Dr. Julia Raudzus, medical director, Provincial Adult Tertiary & Specialized Eating Disorders Program at St. Paul’s. “And as soon as someone has that, we are able to work with that patient, whatever level that is, to help them succeed in care.”

Former patients of the St. Paul’s program, who have been in the very shoes of those in the audience and have come out the other side, volunteer to be part of the peer-to-peer panel, offering up hope, motivation, and sharing their own recovery journey, confirming that while recovery is possible it looks very different for everyone.

“Don’t lose hope,” Marlena says. “You have to find out who you are without the eating disorder. It is a lot of work and it is hard, but it is important.”