Montreal artist with ovarian cancer says ordeal will shape her vote

A Montreal artist in treatment for ovarian cancer reached out to Daybreak's Shari Okeke about how her ordeal is affecting her vote in the Quebec election.

Her diagnosis sparks plea: 'Think about your own health care and don't waste your vote'

Montreal artist Dulcinea Langfelder is speaking out about her ordeal seeking treatment for ovarian cancer. Healthcare is driving her voting decision in the Quebec election. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

When Dulcinea Langfelder moved to Montreal from New York, part of the attraction to Canada was the idea of universal health care.

Now, 40 years later, she's a Canadian citizen, a well-established performance artist with her own non-profit theatre company and most recently, a cancer patient whose image of our health-care system has been shattered.

"Seeing these cracks in the system and having to leap over them made me angry," she said.

That's why she reached out to Daybreak, wanting to have her say during the program's coverage of the Quebec election campaign.

Langfelder's ordeal has her paying close attention to what candidates in the Quebec election are saying about health care, and she says they are not taking the issue seriously.

Late diagnosis

Langfelder first noticed a tiny lump in January. She was performing and touring at the time but managed to see her doctor when she was able to take a break.

Her doctor thought it was not serious and told her to see a gynecologist, but did not refer her to one.

When Langfelder contacted a local hospital to see a gynecologist, she was told the wait would be 12 to 18 months.

She managed to get an appointment with a gynecologist at an alternative clinic.

If you're going to [vote on] one single issue it should be health care, for crying out loud.- Dulcinea   Langfelder

That doctor determined the situation was urgent, and sent Langfelder to another gynecologist, at a hospital. After that consultation, Langfelder was finally referred to an oncologist.

She was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in March.

"I don't understand why we wasted those precious weeks," she said.

Needed surgery 'yesterday'

Langfelder says the oncologist told her she needed surgery "yesterday," but there would not be a surgeon available for at least a few more weeks.

"I could feel [the cancer] growing inside me. By the time I had my surgery, I had two enormous tumours and just a month earlier it was a tiny little lump," she said.

Langfelder said she started calling the hospital every day, insisting she needed the surgery.

By the time she had surgery in May, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and could not be completely removed.

Since then, Langfelder has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments and is still unable to work.

"I can't say that the delay in getting treatment cost me my life, I'm not ready to say that now," she said.

"I'm planning to beat this — but certainly it's very serious."

Dulcinea Langfelder has been performing in Victoria, a show she created about an elderly woman who has lost her memory, for 19 years. (Cylla von Tiedemann)

Health-care activist

Langfelder says she's been "something of an activist" in health care through one of her creations for the stage: Victoria.

It's a piece she has performed around the world for 19 years about an elderly woman who has lost her memory.

Langfelder said her health crisis may inspire future creations, once she's able to work.

"It's changed me... I may very well make a very funny piece about it," she said.

At the moment, she sees nothing funny about it and is determined to speak out.

She says it's troubling that some patients can face an 18-month wait to see a gynecologist, while those who can afford private services can access appointments faster.

Langfelder says she wants the next government to examine​ the extent to which "the private sector has taken over the public."

Daybreak's Shari Okeke met up with a patient and a caregiver whose personal experiences with the healthcare system are determining how they'll vote. 12:59

More preventive care 

Langfelder also wants candidates to start talking about preventive health care.

With a compromised immune system after starting chemotherapy, she developed shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash.

Langfelder says she later learned she might have avoided that "nightmare" had she known there's a vaccine, but it costs about $300.

She says that cost should be covered, at least partly, for patients.

Langfelder also learned she has the BRCA genetic mutation.

Had she been tested for it, she would have known she faced a higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer so, she says, our health-care system should cover that testing for all women.

While off work to undergo chemotherapy treatments, Montreal artist Dulcinea Langfelder spends as much time as possible in her garden. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Plea to Anglos

She says plans to vote for Québec Solidaire because she believes its priority "would be human beings and not corporations," and it would address her concerns about the health-care system.

"Philippe Couillard has let us down. I don't expect the CAQ to do any better."

Langfelder wishes Québec Solidaire would let go of the idea of a referendum, but believes any referendum would fail any way.

And she's making a plea to other anglophones.

"If you're voting on one issue, and that one issue is Quebec separating, I would consider that a wasted vote," she said.

"If you're going to have one single issue it should be health care, for crying out loud — it concerns all of us, especially when you get older and you start getting sick."

About the Author

Shari Okeke

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, a CBC original podcast. She was born and raised in Montreal.