Edmonton

Senior's cancer surgery cancelled during 4th wave, now given just months to live

Anne LeBlanc, 76, was given three to six months to live after her cancer surgery was cancelled in October.

'People all over this province need life-saving care and surgeries and they're not getting it'

Anne LeBlanc, 76, is battling liver cancer. Her daughter says her mom is positive and stubborn. (Suzanne Marney)

In August, an MRI revealed the cancerous tumour on Anne LeBlanc's liver had returned. 

On Oct. 5, the 76-year-old was in an Edmonton hospital for surgery. The IV was inserted and she was wheeled on a gurney toward the operating room. 

At the doors to the OR, a nurse ran up to LeBlanc apologizing profusely as she told her the surgery had just been cancelled.

"This of course was due to not having a bed in ICU because at the time all the ICU beds were taken up by COVID patients," Suzanne Marney, LeBlanc's daughter, told CBC News Thursday.

Her mother was assured she was a high-priority case and that she would be called to reschedule as soon as a bed was available, Marney said. 

The call never came. 

On Thursday, LeBlanc had an appointment with an oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. He had looked at the MRI taken a few days before the scheduled surgery in October which showed multiple tumours on her liver.

"The doctor told her that really her disease had progressed too far and there was nothing they could do," Marney said. "The doctor suggested she just go home and enjoy the remaining time that she has, which is at this point they're saying three to six months."

LeBlanc at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton shortly before she learned her cancer had spread. (Suzanne Marney/Twitter)

LeBlanc has fought cancer off and on over the last nine years and so far she's managed to defy doctors' predictions, Marney said. 

"As stubborn as my mom is, and as positive and upbeat as she is, Mom is also feeling that this time ... it will probably be three to six months."

"Mom's just saying she hopes she makes it through December."

15,000 surgeries cancelled

At least 15,000 surgeries were cancelled due to the pandemic's fourth wave this fall, said Alberta's health minister Jason Copping. He believes the surgical wait list has peaked at 81,600 cases. 

Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative government has been sharply criticized for easing public health restrictions in the summer just as the delta variant ramped up.

By September, hospitals had been pushed to the brink by soaring caseloads forcing Alberta Health Services to redeploy medical staff to deal with the health crisis, resulting in thousands of scheduled surgeries being cancelled.

Marney's anger about her mother's situation is aimed directly at the Kenney government. 

"I'm mad because they cannot manage our health-care system," she said. "I'm mad because people all over this province need life-saving care and surgeries and they're not getting it.

LeBlanc goes for a drive with her daughter Suzanne Marney. (Suzanne Marney)

"It's not just my mom. There are so many people out there who need treatment."

She said she wants to know why the premier didn't do more to flatten the fourth wave.

"Why are you putting the lives of Albertans at the edge of a cliff with nowhere to go?" 

"Premier Kenney's heart goes out to Ms. Marney's family," press secretary Harrison Fleming said in a statement.

The Alberta government "is doing everything we can to clear the surgery backlog" and that "Alberta has seen smaller reductions in surgery than other provinces," Fleming said.

NDP health critic David Sheppard spoke to Marney and called the situation a "gut punch" and "tragic." 

"Alberta was behind on every step of the way in mitigating the fourth wave," Sheppard said. "So I absolutely reject any claim by Jason Kenney or health minister Copping that Alberta was just a victim of circumstance like every other jurisdiction."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston is an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who has covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca.

With files from Canadian Press

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