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Comment: He has liver cancer — and is waiting, waiting for treatment

A commentary by a resident of the Comox Valley.
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Stock image shows a patient undergoing CT scan in a hospital. An Island man has been waiting months for cancer treatment.

Premier John Horgan is a passionate advocate for health care, and knows cancer treatment from first-hand experience. He speaks of his gratefulness for receiving timely life-saving treatment, of the generosity of our tireless health care workers, and he exemplifies the grit it takes as an individual fighting to regain their health.

My experience is different. I am writing with deep concern about the waiting times for cancer treatment and I want to share with you what families, like mine, are experiencing.

On March 4, we sought treatment for a healthy 70-year-old, productively working family member. He suddenly couldn’t eat and after several repeat GP appointments where he was prescribed heartburn pills and probiotics, we took him to the ER.

That night, a CT scan showed that liver cancer was his new reality. At this point the cancer had not spread, but a 10-centimetre tumour and two smaller cancerous tumours clearly showed we had no time to wait.

But wait, we did. His GP assured us that it could be treated by surgery, and that a cure might be possible. However, we had to wait for the Liver Board approval and this loving, patient member of our family was added to the long list of people awaiting decisions and eventual treatment.

There are so many urgent cancer cases right now. I cannot imagine being the oncology nurse answering patient phone calls. One week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks passed. We continued waiting – five weeks, six weeks, and he is still waiting, and has no oncologist. He has no appointment scheduled and this disease still resides and grows inside of him.

After waiting six weeks and still receiving no appointment with the oncologist, we were told that now, chemotherapy is needed before surgery. This information was passed to us by our GP.

The GP assured us the chemotherapy would start soon, maybe this week or next at our local hospital. Our family member continues to wait by the phone, for a plan. Two more weeks have passed and there has been no call to schedule the chemotherapy. We don’t know what to say to him.

Our family, out of desperation, now calls the oncology reception nurse in Victoria every two days. She looks ahead at the six oncologists’ schedules and tells us “maybe there will be an opening in mid-June.” That is at least four more weeks of waiting.

The oncology nurse is kind and understanding as she offers to connect us to her manager. But at this point, the problem has moved beyond a manager. This is a problem that needs the attention of the premier — a fellow cancer patient.

We don’t blame Horgan. We certainly don’t blame the heroic health-care workers at any level in our system.

We are adding our voice, as loudly as we can, for the government to recognize the growing and unacceptable crisis in wait times for cancer treatment. We are writing on behalf of average person who gets sick — on behalf of people who aren’t rich, famous or connected enough to get special treatment.

We are writing on behalf of the people who have dutifully paid taxes their whole lives, but who are seeing every ounce of hope slip away – knowing that there is a treatment, but the line-up is too long.

Upon discovery, my father-in-law’s cancer was at the edge of being treatable, but still possible, according to the doctors. This is perhaps the worst scenario when the waiting time is never-ending.

Compare this to six years ago: In 2016, CBC News profiled one of our family friends about his four-week wait time for liver cancer surgery. Another local woman, whose story was in the news in 2016, had to wait 46 days before being seen by B.C. Cancer for endometrial cancer.

Should we now be satisfied, in 2022, with a 10-week wait just to be seen by B.C. Cancer and before receiving treatment of any kind?

Please listen to the doctors and nurses who are burning out and leaving in frustration.

If it is the burden on doctors from the fee-for-service structure, then let’s change it. Help them spend more time with patients, and less time doing paperwork.

Open more seats to train young people, and work to retain health care professionals. Address surgery scheduling inefficiencies and think creatively. Look at other countries and maybe even other provinces that are doing better with this issue.

A radical change in our model is necessary as our population grows older. In regions like the Comox Valley, I cannot imagine how we will have adequate services in 10 years with the huge growth in our region (as we don’t have them now). British Columbia must address this wait-time issue in health care. Waiting and watching the life drain from our loved ones when treatments are available is not a viable option.

Our loved one’s GP tells us hopeful things, but at the moment, our reality could not be further from the truth. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and the system is in chaos.

We will support any government that is ready to deal with this.