This year, according to Ovarian Cancer Canada, 730 women in Quebec will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Maureen Dore-Parent is one of them.
The nurse, 57, had an inkling something was wrong this summer in late August when she started spotting.
But after an initial appointment, where the doctor felt a mass in her abdomen, Dore-Parent said she had to fight to receive a diagnosis and treatment.
“I was able to see a doctor within three days. That’s good,” she said. “And then I got my ultrasound three days after that. That’s good. And then I waited. And waited. And waited.”
Like many Quebecers, Dore-Parent doesn’t have a GP.
The doctor at the clinic she visited asked for blood tests, an ultrasound and a referral to see a gynecologist within 28 days.
Rather than wait for her results, Dore-Parent decided to access her records at work.
“I checked my file and the ultrasound,” she said. “What it showed was a very, very large mass, like the size of a mango or a grapefruit, on one ovary and another one on the other ovary the size of a lime.”
Based on the ultrasound the radiologist recommended a follow-up with a gynecologist-oncologist, an MRI of the tumours and blood tests for the tumour markers.
That’s when Dore-Parent called the radiology clinic but being unable to write referrals, they were unable to help her.
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They suggested she go to the ER but Dore-Parent felt she didn’t need to be there.
“I just needed to see a gynecologist,” she said. “So I called back the clinic and they said: ‘ Well, just wait your 28 days.'”
Instead, Dore-Parent took matters into her own hands.
“I’m not that patient,” she said, adding that she eventually decided to go to the emergency room where a friend of hers works.
Blood work and a CT of her abdomen showed it was likely ovarian cancer.
“The tumour markers were very high,” Dore-Parent said of the blood tests. “They should be between zero and 35 and they were 1,255. You don’t need to be a nurse or a doctor to know that’s not good.”
She was able to see a gynecologist and was referred to the MUHC hospital and was seen 10 days later.
Then things finally started moving.
Dore-Parent underwent surgery and is set to begin chemotherapy in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, 72 days later, she finally received a call to book an appointment with a gynecologist based on the referral from the initial consult.
Those kinds of delays can mean the difference between life and death and that’s why Dore-Parent is speaking out.
Because of her background as a nurse, Dore-Parent said she knew to push and had connections others don’t. Other people, who don’t know to push, would still be waiting for answers and falling through the cracks, she said.
“That makes me feel very angry because I have the ability to get things checked and to stamp my feet, but other people don’t.”
According to Ovarian Cancer Canada CEO Tania Vrionis, Dore-Parent’s story is all too common.
A recent study by the organization shows the province has the highest rates of ovarian cancer patients visiting the ER to obtain urgent care.
“At that point, you’re very likely to be Stage 3 or Stage 4 cancer because your symptoms have elevated to the point where you go to the emergency room,” Vrionis said, adding ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the female cancers.
“The reality is that 3,100 Canadian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. And the way it stands today, more than half of those won’t live five years.”
While the organization strives to raise awareness about the disease, its symptoms, and the importance of early detection, Vrionis said there’s still a lot of work to do.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer like bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly or changes in urinary or bowel movements aren’t unlike symptoms women experience in daily life.
“It’s really difficult to to help others understand that they shouldn’t be dismissed,” Vrionis said.
Her advice to women is to trust themselves and their instincts, to know their bodies and to document their symptoms and not take no for an answer.
“Evidence matters,” she said, adding Ovarian Cancer Canada has developed several tools in that regard to help women speak to their doctors and advocate for themselves.
Dore-Parent for her part is calling on the government to improve the current health-care system.
“It’s so broken,” she said.
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry said that while it couldn’t comment on specific cases, its mandate is clear.
“Urgent surgeries and treatments must be prioritized,” wrote Marie-Claude Lacasse in French. “Furthermore, doctors have an ethical obligation regarding the follow-up of their patients.”
Lacasse said the patient can file a complaint with the Complaints Commissioner and/or the College of Physicians if she believes there a was a breach in her case.
— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and Kalina Laframboise