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Construction on Nanaimo cancer centre expected to begin next year

The three-storey centre to be built next to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s ambulatory care building is expected to be completed in 2028
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix was in Nanaimo on Tuesday for the announcement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Construction of a new $289-million cancer centre in Nanaimo is expected to start next year, after a business plan was approved, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday.

Those on the central Island need cancer care closer to home, said Dix, noting the Nanaimo region is home to 450,000 people, and growing rapidly.

Dix, who was in Nanaimo for the announcement, said the next step is for the project to go to tender, with completion expected in 2028.

The three-storey centre will be built next to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s ambulatory care building and offer the latest medical technology, he said.

The second floor will have a computed topography (CT) simulator and a PET/CT diagnostic scanner, while the oncology ambulatory care unit will have 12 exam rooms, four consultation rooms and space for medical physicists and radiation therapists.

The lower level will contain concrete vaults for radiation equipment.

In B.C., it’s estimated one in two people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.

Qualicum Beach cancer survivor Joanne Falvi, a criminology professor at Vancouver Island University who spoke at Tuesday’s announcement, said after she was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2020, she had to go to B.C. Cancer in Victoria for “lifesaving” radiation treatment.

The married mother of three teenage boys said the family didn’t want to be separated, so they temporarily re-located to the south Island.

“I couldn’t tolerate the travel from Qualicum,” said Falvi, who had medulloblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer in children but rarely seen in adults, especially those over 40.

Falvi said she’s back teaching after receiving excellent care at B.C. Cancer in Victoria. “I was met with compassion and understanding and patience from every single person I encountered every day — from greeters at the door to the receptionist, nurses, doctors, oncologists …”

While she is happy about the construction of a cancer centre in Nanaimo, Falvi joked that she hopes never to see the inside of a radiation machine again.

In the Nanaimo area, it’s estimated that 1,000 people will require radiation therapy this year.

As part of the construction plan, Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, which currently has an oncology clinic and provides chemotherapy and pharmacy services, will get a single-storey addition to the ambulatory care building that will be home to an oncology clinic and an updated and expanded pharmacy.

The upgraded clinic will also have 16 treatment bays, up from the current nine, private consultation rooms, a medication room and support space.

Cancer care delivered through the clinic will include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and hormonal therapy. It will also provide initial consultation and treatment planning with a medical oncologist, follow-up care and patient education.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said given that his wife was treated two different times for two different cancers in Victoria and Vancouver, he knows the benefits of a cancer centre in the region.

Parksville-Qualicum Independent MLA Adam Walker said being able to offer radiation treatment, modern PET-CT imaging and more chemotherapy bays at the hospital will be “a huge improvement for most cancer patients.”

A two-storey parkade will be constructed next door to the cancer centre to accommodate 164 vehicles.

B.C. Cancer chief operating officer Tracy Irwin called the announcement a “critical milestone” and said the new services in Nanaimo will complement those in Victoria.

In its first year of operation, the new facility is projected to support 11,000 radiation patient consultations and follow-up appointments as well as 1,600 courses of treatment, according to the Provincial Health Services Authority and B.C. Cancer.

The new cancer centre is part of the province’s 10-year cancer care plan to better prevent, detect and treat cancers.

Snuneymuxw First Nations Elder Sandra Good noted that cancer rates are higher for Indigenous people and said the new cancer centre will improve heath outcomes for Snuneymuxw people who are struggling with the disease.

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