A woman dying of cancer, and the struggle to get treatment to reduce her pain

Mike, 66, and Elaine Foley, 67 sitting at a resturant.
Click to play video: 'Woman dying of cancer struggles to get treatment to relieve pain'
Woman dying of cancer struggles to get treatment to relieve pain
Elaine, 65, and Mike Foley, 66, are running out of time to fix Elaine’s debilitating back injury before she dies. The Wasaga Beach woman is battling Stage 4 cancer, with doctors estimating she only has one to two years left to live – Feb 15, 2024

With a fatal cancer diagnosis, time is not something Elaine Foley, 67, has to spare.

With a medical system plagued with long wait times, the Wasaga Beach, Ont., woman is running out of what little time she has left.

Elaine is battling Stage 4 cancer that spread from her lungs to her brain, with doctors estimating she only has one to two years left to live.

She is also dealing with a back injury from 20 years ago when she worked as a corrections officer, which has gotten worse and left her in an immense amount of pain.

“I go from my bedroom to my La-Z-Boy, and when I go for doctor’s appointments or with chemo, it’s very painful to try and walk, but you have to get there. So other than going from my bedroom to my La-Z-Boy, I really haven’t been out of my house for six months,” Elaine says.

While her cancer can’t be cured, Elaine’s husband Mike says a significant amount of her pain could be relieved with surgery.

But the couple say time is running out to fix her back issues to allow her to spend the time she has left with her family.

“I was hoping to at least have some enjoyment with them. So that’s what my end goal is: to have time with my grandchildren. They live in Calgary, and getting there would be impossible, practically being crunched into a plane or crunched into a car, and then when I get there, I would only be able to go from the front door to the back door. But with the back surgery, I think I’ll be OK; at least I’m praying I’ll be OK,” Elaine says.

Elaine, 67 and Mike Foley, 66, with their two grandsons. Supplied by Mike Foley

Mike says the two had been working on getting Elaine’s back injury finally treated when doctors discovered her cancer in August 2023.


He says doctors worked quickly to treat her cancer, but they are finding issues when it comes to treating her back injury, having waited months to get an initial MRI.

“Things are progressing at a glacial pace, not because of our doctor, but because of the Ontario health system. The problem is that my wife is a woman who has between one and two years left to live, and we’re trying to find the best way for her to live those years. We want her to have the best quality of life, and it’s already been more than half a year trying to get to the first square,” he says.

Last year, he said they were able to get her an MRI, but he says a previous doctor they were seeing requested the wrong area for the scan.

In need of a new scan of her back, Mike says they were faced with wait times of five months or more, which is time Elaine does not have to waste.

According to the Ministry of Health, only 34 per cent of patients in Ontario get an MRI scan within the targeted time. In 2023 the average wait for MRIs at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie was 103 days and at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, it was 49 days.

The couple started looking into other options and contacted private clinics with costs of between $2,000 and $3,500 to get a private scan in either Quebec or Buffalo, N.Y., but given her level of pain, Elaine would not be able to make the trip.

“We’re fortunate we might have been able to do that, but many people can’t,” Mike says.

Mike said they even had one woman reach out to them to offer Elaine her MRI appointment when she heard about the situation.

After months of searching, the two found a private clinic in Mississauga that had an opening last week.

“Once they heard about Elaine’s situation, they were able to move stuff around and squeeze us in finally. But it’s taken eight months to a year from the beginning of this to get to the first step,” Mike says.

Although the couple are one step closer, they are concerned with the wait times still to come.

“Will the opportunity be there for her to have the last months of her life in any form of quality? I’m not sure if what we’re doing and speaking about will help my wife Elaine, but will it do something for somebody else?” Mike told Global.

Mike says the next steps are meeting with their doctor to review the results and then waiting for a surgeon to meet with them.

Pushing back tears, Mike says it is a terrible feeling knowing Elaine may die before she can get treatment for her pain.

“It might be too late for Elaine, but there definitely needs to be changes made in the system to accommodate people who are facing end-of-life situations. We’re a compassionate society; we need to be more compassionate,” he says.

The two are thankful for the care Elaine has gotten regarding her cancer from both her family doctor and oncologists, who they say responded fast once the cancer was detected, but say more needs to be done to help Elaine and people like her have a better quality of life and speedy access to care.

“I don’t expect the government or the Ministry of Health to have empathy because they are a government, but at the same time, there should be exceptions made for people in Elaine’s case,” Mike says.

“Our health-care system is broken, and it needs to be fixed, and for people that are essentially terminal, let’s make the last months of their life as comfortable as possible.”

He says Elaine’s case is just one example of people falling through the cracks in our health-care system.

“Our government knows for too long, too many people have spent too much time navigating the healthcare system or trying to access care. We know the status quo is not working, which is why our government launched Your Health, our plan to connect you to the care you need, close to home,” says Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health.

Through our government’s plan, Jensen says the ministry has increased diagnostic imaging capacity over the last year by an additional 97,767 MRI and 116,443 CT operating hours in 2023.

She says the province has also invested $40 million to add 49 new MRI machines in 42 hospitals across the province, including at Royal Victoria Health Centre in Barrie.