It was April 3, 1998, when the doors first opened to Kelowna’s cancer clinic.
One of six in the province, the clinic is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“What I want to acknowledge is the donors and the community and the support they’ve provided,” said Pardeep Khrod, executive director of BC Cancer Foundation.
“Twenty-five years ago, when the cancer centre opened in 1998, it was the community that jointly raised $20 million to ensure that we can have a cancer center in Kelowna.”
More than 4,000 people from across B.C.’s Interior use the clinic every year.
“We want to ensure that every British Columbian, no matter where they live, gets the exact same care,” Khrod said.
“So having a cancer center here, that is a research hub, that is accelerating cancer care, is very important so that our patients don’t have to travel anywhere.”
Bob Rialland is one of those patients.
The 75-year-old Kelowna man was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015 and now has monthly visits to the clinic.
“It’s been a godsend for people who have had to go out-of-province or in-province,” he told Global News.
His wife echoed the sentiment.
“It’s convenient,” Pat Rialland said. “The convenience, the doctors are all good, it’s very helpful. I’m just glad it’s all here.”
Since opening in 1998, a lot has changed at the clinic.
This includes the number of staff, which has more than doubled to 500 since those early days.
“The capacity, the number of radiation treatment units have increased,” said Dr. Ross Halperin, executive medical director at the cancer clinic.
“The number of places for patients to receive systemic therapies, we’ve more than doubled the number of chairs.”
In addition to an increased capacity, the number of therapies now offered at the clinic have also gone up.
“If you look back 25 years ago, particularly in the drug-therapy realm. we had a one-size-fits-all kind of approach, said Halperin. “Now chemotherapy is just one of many of the therapies that are given to a patient.”
Halperin said therapies are far more individualized, depending on the type of cancer.
“Today, we do things to enhance a person’s immune system to fight off their cancer. Today, we have drugs and therapies that are used to target the actual genetic mistake and so it’s quite remarkable how things have changed, ” Halperin said.
“Radiotherapy, because of the advancements in technology, is much more precise and can send a high amount of radiation that can kill cancers while sparing the normal tissue.”
New equipment has also been brought in over the years, including a PET CT Scanner. It was acquired three years ago thanks to a $5 million fundraising campaign.
The machine allows doctors to see exactly where in the body the cancer is, which makes treatment more precise and effective.
“So patients that would be going to Vancouver because they needed a PET CT, they no longer have to do that,” said Khrod.
While a lot of progress has been made, and patient outcomes have improved both at the clinic and on the cancer front in general, Halperin said more is needed to help in the cancer fight.
“We need more capacity,” he said. “We need to be able to see patients in a more timely manner — and to do that, we need more staff.”
Halperin hopes that B.C.’s recently announced 10-year, $440-million action plan will help address those issues, such as improving staff recruitment and creating a more team-based approach to deal with each cancer case.
“All of these things are focused on improving the outcomes of cancer patients,” said Halperin, “but also improving the patient and family experience that they feel supported by the system through their care journey.”