A cancer survivor says New Brunswick has made an important decision that will cut back on the leading cause of death for women in their 40s.
Kathy Kaufield was thrilled on Friday to be part of a provincial government announcement that it will soon allow women between 40 and 49 years of age to self-refer for a mammography, rather than wait for the OK from a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Too many women, she said, can’t get a doctor’s appointment and, when they can, the physician might be slow to make a referral for an X-ray that can find breast tumours.
The new self-referral program to 14 different screening sites across the province will speed up the process and cut through the bureaucracy, she said.
“Sometimes I’m crying, sometimes I’m doing cartwheels. I’m just over the moon that this is done.”
A communications specialist and former Telegraph-Journal reporter, Kaufield was first diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer at 47 and went through 16 difficult rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and surgery to eliminate the golf-ball sized tumour in her breast. She’s been cancer-free for seven years.
While breast cancer is not as common in younger, pre-menopausal women, it can be more aggressive. Dense Breasts Canada, an advocacy organization, says each year in the country, 27,100 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,100 die from the disease. Early detection can drastically improve outcomes and save lives, it says.
“With early detection comes less aggressive treatments and a better quality of life for the patient and their family,” said Sherry Wilson, minister responsible for addictions and mental health services, who was part of the announcement on Friday at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton. “This will allow women who are diagnosed to return to a normal life sooner.”
Daryl Steeves, an interim vice president with Horizon Health Network, said early detection is “our best weapon” and the initiative would “save lives, increasing the chances of survival for New Brunswick women in this high-risk age group, empowering them to take control of their own health and ensure they are able to receive the timely care they deserve.”
Once the self-referral program is up and running, expected by early next year, New Brunswick will join only Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and the Yukon with such a service in the country.
Kaufield, who has documented her battle with cancer extensively, said the health system will not be swamped with women seeking X-rays.
“I doubt they’ll be flooded because women don’t like to get mammograms, unfortunately. It is a simple test that can save your life. So any woman who comes to me and says, ‘I’m pretty nervous to do that,’ I reply, ‘Compared to giving birth or many other things you do, this is a walk in the park and could save your life.’ I think when this comes out, there will have to be some public awareness that you can go get your mammogram done.”
On average, 49,000 women get a mammogram each year in New Brunswick. The Department of Health said Friday it expects that number to increase by up to 25,000.
Kaufield said it would not drive up costs to the public treasury because treating a cancer patient is much pricier than early detection and prevention.
Friday’s announcement was a big win for Kaufield, who set herself a goal of convincing the province to make the screening more accessible this year.
She wrote an opinion piece on the subject that was published by Brunswick News in January, and by February had secured a meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs, Health Minister Bruce Fitch, and Tammy Scott-Wallace, at the time the minister responsible for women’s equality.
The head of the breast imaging section at the Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Jean Seely, also appeared at the meeting by video conference to present their arguments.
“Only in New Brunswick could you write an op/ed and then ask for a meeting and within five weeks you’re sitting down with all these people in a room who can make it happen,” Kaufield said. “It’s small enough and enough people know who you are. They saw the research and said right away, ‘we’re going to look into this’ and I left feeling pretty positive.”
John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner