Anne Aubie is scheduled to undergo surgery for breast cancer next week. The Montreal-area woman was first diagnosed in January of this year.
“I feel wonderful,” she told Global News about finally getting a date for her Dec. 22 surgery. “But,” she added, “I know that it can be cancelled at the drop of a dime.”
Her fear stems from her treatment having already been delayed following recent strikes by health-care workers.
Aubie’s cancer journey has been filled with constant worry, made worse by what she says is a broken health system.
From the very beginning, Aubie said she was facing delays.
“When I first went to get my mammogram, I wasn’t getting the results quick enough from the hospital,” she said. “So I went to a private clinic and I paid a lot of money to have the mammogram and the biopsies done.”
Aubie started chemotherapy in May and on Sept. 15, her doctor gave her the good news: “No more chemo!”
Her lump, she was told, had shrunk significantly, readying the path for surgery in four to six weeks to remove the tumour and several lymph nodes.
Well, four weeks went by, and then six and Aubie said she still hadn’t received a call to schedule her surgery.
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“This is going on, and on, and on,” she said, adding that with the help of her sister she was making phone calls and writing letters contacting everyone from her surgeon to her oncology nurse to the hospital’s ombudsman.
Despite them wanting to help, Aubie said she was told there was nothing they could do.
She says her doctor blamed the delays on the ongoing strike.
“My surgeon called me one night and said: ‘My hands are tied, there’s such a shortage of staff and with the nurses strike … there’s nothing I can do.”
The McGill University Health Centre, where Aubie is being treated, admitted the recent strike has led to a slowdown in certain services, including surgery. A statement to Global News reads in part: “As the number of strike days increases, it becomes more difficult to schedule out-of-time operations and cancer-related surgeries.”
Aubie worries about the impact it will have on patients like her.
“They have to do something … people are going to die,” Aubie said.
She admitted the waiting has been taxing.
“It makes me feel horrible. I go to bed every night thinking: ‘Is this growing inside me? Is it spreading to other parts of my body?'”
Dr. Laura Masucci, president of the Association of Radiation Oncologists of Quebec, acknowledged the delays are stressful, not only for patients and their families, but health-care providers too.
“We’re in a situation where we have to prioritize patients and it’s not something that we necessarily want to do,” she said.
Like other cancer treatments, including surgeries and chemotherapy, radiation treatments are also being pushed back or cancelled.
“We’re seeing about 20 to 25 patients per day that had their treatments delayed and more or less the same amount that haven’t been able to go through the process of starting their treatment,” Masucci said.
She insisted, however, that patients are still getting the care they need.
“I do want to reassure everybody that the patients that do need treatment in an urgent fashion are treated,” she said. “And the ones that have seen their treatment postponed, they’re still treated in the timeframe that they should be treated.”
In the long term, however, Masucci agreed things need to change.
She says the strike has only come to emphasize an existing problem: a shortage of radiation oncology therapists. She adds that workers are doing what they can by providing treatment late at night or on weekends.
“It’s not something that our teams can sustain in the long run so eventually there will be some difficulty in terms of waiting lists.”
Quebec’s largest nurses’ union declined a request for comment. Quebec’s Health Ministry told Global News in an email that the directive is to prioritize oncology surgeries within a 90-day delay, depending on each case.
The ministry added that the new health-care reform will help improve the system.