Carol Young spoke out. A day later, she was finally able to see two oncologists to discuss how she might prolong her life.
Young, 65, has terminal cancer and was told two weeks ago that she had a month to live without treatment. Nevertheless, she was unable to secure an appointment with an oncologist at Abbotsford’s cancer clinic until June 13, by which time it would have been 27 days since her dire prognosis.
Young, a successful Haida artist, spoke to The News on Wednesday about her predicament.
“I’m not ready to give up,” said Young, who said she hoped to receive chemotherapy in order to extend her life and spend more time with her children. Although she has had some health issues, Young has not yet been beset by the pain or significant discomfort that often accompanies the final stages of cancer.
Young told The News that after receiving a scan in mid-May, she asked for paperwork to be sent to the BC Cancer Agency’s clinic at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, so she could stay with her son in Langley while receiving treatment. But for a week, she left messages at the clinic, only to hear nothing back. Finally, this Tuesday, she was told that the earliest she could see an oncologist was June 13. She couldn’t restart treatment before then.
Young spoke to The News on Wednesday and a story was posted online soon thereafter. Within hours, an assistant for provincial health minister Adrian Dix contacted The News to get in touch with Young, which led to a conversation between Young and Dix. On Thursday, Young got an appointment with a radiation oncologist and an oncologist who deals with chemotherapy, according to her daughter.
Young’s path forward is still unclear, and The News intends to respect the family’s privacy. But the waiting for the oncologist appointment, at least, is over. Young told The News that the hardest part of her treatment had been waiting to receive information.
It’s unclear how common Young’s situation is. Others spoke of long waits to see a cancer specialist, and Young herself was told that the oncologist’s schedule was “full” until mid-June.
Pamela Gole, the BC Cancer Agency director of communications, said that while she can’t discuss the specifics of Young’s case, she said it was neither “common nor is it the regular standard of care.”
The agency’s referral forms have an area where physicians can signal the urgency of the case, she noted.
And although it can be difficult to fill oncologist positions, Gole said the cancer clinic in Abbotsford has a full complement of cancer specialists. She said Young’s case was not the result of a shortage of oncologists.
“Providing the best possible patient care is our priority,” Gole said.
Asked what other patients who might find themselves in similar situations can do, Gole pointed them towards each health authority’s Patient Care Quality Office. Information can be found under “complaints” at the bottom of most health authority and agencies’ websites. Gole said complaints of an urgent nature are treated as such. Complaints also, she said, allow health officials to improve system-wide care.
The News also has requested to speak to Dix, but a health ministry spokesperson said such questions should be directed to the Provincial Health Services Authority that oversees the BC Cancer Agency. The News has repeated its request, given Dix’s role overseeing provincial health policy.