After this story was published Wednesday, health officials contacted Carol Young and scheduled a new appointment. Young saw a radiology oncologist and a chemotherapy oncologist Thursday. For the latest, click here.
A Haida artist with cancer was told earlier this month that she had a month to live without further treatment, but four weeks will have passed by the time she is finally able to see an oncologist.
That wait isn’t acceptable to Carol Young, who is adamant that she wants treatment – and needs to see a doctor before her mid-June appointment at a cancer clinic in Abbotsford.
“If anything, that chemo can buy me more time,” she said. “It’s more time I can spend with the kids.”
Young, 65, was diagnosed last November with terminal lung cancer. Given two-to-six months to live at the time, Young underwent chemotherapy, changed her diet and felt relatively few symptoms of the cancer. She lived to see the birth of her new granddaughter and spend months with her daughter, who was visiting from New York. She even went to care and cook for her 90-year-old mother, who had recently fallen ill.
But two weeks ago, in Victoria, she was told by a doctor that her cancer had spread to her brain, and she likely had just a month to live if she didn’t get more treatment. The doctors sent the records to ARH’s cancer clinic, where Young – who has been staying with her son in Langley – had received treatment before.
Young called the cancer ward four times to learn more, but didn’t receive a call back for a week, her daughter said. On Tuesday, she was told she would not be able to see an oncologist until June 13. She was told the oncologist’s schedule was “full” until then and that she won’t be told her options regarding any future treatment before then. By her scheduled appointment, it will have been 27 days since she was given a month to live.
Young said she asked for an earlier date, but said she was told “do you want the appointment or not?”
Young is a First Nations artist and carver. One of her designs appears on a special Royal Canadian Mint gold and silver coin and until recently she had a studio in Vancouver. She moved to Port Alberni last year, just months before her diagnosis.
Speaking over the phone, Young doesn’t sound like someone in the last weeks of her life. She said she didn’t feel sick until the last month, and isn’t in significant pain or discomfort. She said the worst part of her cancer, so far, has been the stress of waiting to see the results of important scans.
“If I have a limited time, I’m going to have a good time and spend it with my kids,” she said.
The News has requested comment from the BC Cancer Agency, which runs cancer services at ARH. Young says she hopes her case can illustrate challenges across British Columbia in getting people with cancer timely help. She said she has asked whether she could be treated elsewhere, but heard other cancer clinics also have too few oncologists.
In recent weeks, Young’s health has begun deteriorating. She recently spent time in the Langley emergency room due to problems in her chests, and she says she has been scared to fall asleep.
The week she spent waiting for a call from the ARH cancer clinic was particularly stressful, she said.
Now, she is faced with waiting weeks just to learn what options – if any – are available to her. She says that if she isn’t offered chemotherapy, she would seek options elsewhere.
“I’m not ready to give up yet.”
On Wednesday, an assistant to Health Minister Adrian Dix contacted the News in order to reach Young.
And a spokesperson with the BC Cancer Agency wrote:
“Providing the best possible patient care is a top priority for BC Cancer and we ensure patients requiring urgent care are seen in a timely manner. We recognize the difficulty that a cancer diagnosis and treatment can have on patients and their families. Due to confidentiality, we are unable to provide any information about the patient. However, we can say we are in ongoing conversations with the patient directly to discuss their care.”
The News has asked how BC Cancer ensures patients get seen in a timely manner and what will be done to address the deficiencies that seem to be raised by Young’s case. The News also asked whether there is a shortage of oncologists in B.C. The News had not received a response as of press time.