Long trips to Halifax frustrating for Yarmouth cancer patients

Yarmouth cancer patients mobilize online for local radiation treatment

A Yarmouth town councillor who is battling cancer is pushing for more cancer support at Yarmouth Regional Hospital in western Nova Scotia.

Sandy Dennis, 63, was diagnosed with lung cancer in February and for the next six weeks will be undergoing treatment in Halifax.

Dennis and her husband have to make the 3½-hour drive because she can't get radiation treatments at her local hospital.

She said the costs of travelling for treatment add up.

"You have to pay parking fees, meals and of course the gas."

Dennis was the driving force behind a motion approved last week at a Yarmouth town council meeting. The result of the motion will have Pam Mood, the mayor of Yarmouth, writing a letter to the Department of Health asking the province to consider a full cancer unit at Yarmouth hospital, saving cancer patients valuable time and money by getting treatment close to home.

"I also asked in the motion for mayor Mood to ask mayors and wardens in Digby, Shelburne, the Municipality of Argyle and the Municipality of Yarmouth to get together and write a letter as well because I think that would help," said Dennis.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said in an emailed statement it is "committed to providing Nova Scotians with quality cancer treatment and care as close to home as is safely possible."

However, the authority said the feasibility of having radiation therapy available in Yarmouth has been "explored many times over the years" and each time was deemed not feasible. 

It said another review will be conducted later this fall. In the meantime, the authority said it's working to improve co-ordination so patients travelling for care can have appointments scheduled the same day to cut down on travel time.

Other patients in the same boat

Since her diagnosis Dennis said she has met several other cancer patients from the Yarmouth area who are also making the long, expensive trip to Halifax to receive radiation treatments.

Janet Doucet of Salmon River, Digby County, is one of them. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and started her treatment in Halifax earlier this month.

"I won't be going home this weekend," said Doucet.

"To go home on Saturday and then come back to Halifax early Monday morning, it's rushed. So this weekend I will be staying in Halifax."

Doucet has been making the trip from her home into Halifax on a shuttle service she has to pay for. The travel and expense has been stressful and she said getting her treatment closer to her home would make a big difference.

"I would rather be sleeping in my own bed and it would only be twenty minutes of travel every day for my treatment from Salmon River to Yarmouth."

Dennis is facing five chemotherapy/radiation treatments a week in Halifax until June. She said she's grateful for the lodging provided by the Canadian Cancer Society at The Lodge That Gives. But like Doucet, she would rather be staying with her family at her home in Yarmouth.