Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

I'm a cancer scientist, and the state of our health-care system worries me

People need better access to cancer information and services, writes Sevtap Savas.

People need better access to cancer information and services, writes Sevtap Savas

In this file photo, a radiologist compares mammographic images. (Torin Halsey/The Associated Press)

This column is an opinion by Sevtap Savas, a cancer scientist in St. John's. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Our health-care system has some serious issues.

We desperately, and increasingly, need resources to bring health-care services to our residents — and that includes making sure they have access to the right information about cancer services.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in this country, with around 85,000 Canadians being projected to die because of it in 2021. 

Among all Canadian provinces, the highest rate of cancer is in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This is the bad news.

Around 4,000 new patients are diagnosed with cancer each year in our province, and we know that we should work hard to reduce cancer's effects on our population.

The good news is we have access to medical knowledge and services that may help prevention efforts, and the overall health of our population.

But people need to know how to find those services, and we need to improve accessibility.

Gaps in understanding the experience of cancer

As a cancer scientist, that's part of what I'm working to improve —  the well-being and life experiences of cancer patients and families in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I work with students, scientists, and clinicians. I partner with cancer patients and their family members in research studies and public engagement activities. I talk at public events, I talk to the media, and in every piece of my work, I try to give cancer patients the information they need to make a difference in their lives.

There has been a gap in understanding the lived experience of people with cancer. Sometimes they can't find information on important health-related matters and services. These are among the key issues that cancer patients and family members bring to our attention. 

They want solutions.

Around 4,000 new patients are diagnosed with cancer each year in Newfoundland and Labrador, writes Sevtap Savas. (Glenn Payette/CBC News)

We need to connect members of the public, cancer-affected families, health-care providers and leaders, and researchers in conversations on cancer. 

Our group, the Public Interest Group on Cancer Research, is helping to do this. 

It's a public partnership on cancer, made up of 13 people affected by cancer, and four scientists — all from this province.

At a free, public event last month we worked to address the cancer information gap.

We heard people's opinions, their experiences, and sometimes their frustrations. It was a chance to help increase the awareness of what people with cancer are going through, and what services and support are available to them and their families.

I live in this beautiful province, and I am dedicated to improving the well-being and conditions of cancer-affected individuals. 

I'm not alone in this. There are many researchers, organizations and groups in our province working diligently to make a positive difference through research, public engagement, support, charity and advocacy. 

Our government and the regional health authorities have strong interests in cancer control and public health.

Whose job is it?

But we need to have more public conversations about cancer-related matters. This will help improve the public health system, cancer outcomes, and access to cancer support services. 

We may also better understand the community and patient sides of the story.

I believe many N.L. residents and organizations share my goals, including those that compose our health-care system. 

I keep thinking, whose job is it anyhow to inform our population about health-related matters, challenges, opportunities, services, and support?

Maybe it is a job for everyone.

Considering the situation our health-care system is in, this may be the only way forward.

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Sevtap Savas

Freelance contributor

Sevtap Savas is a cancer scientist and advocate living in St. John's.