Nfld. & Labrador

This cancer survivor is fundraising for a bigger chemotherapy unit in St. John's

Juanita Dinn says it's time a larger facility is built that can accommodate the growing number of people being diagnosed with cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Juanita Dinn credits Murphy Centre with extending her life

Juanita Dinn has been living with cancer for over 10 years. (Submitted by Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation)

A lot has changed for Juanita Dinn since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

Over the last 10 years, she's had a mastectomy and undergone dozens of chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John's.

Her illness is terminal, but she credits doctors at the centre with keeping her alive to watch her three children  — including her youngest, who was just six years old when she was diagnosed — grow up and reach adulthood. 

"I know it's not a cure, but the big thing for me right now is as much time as I can have with my family. That's my goal," she said.

"I'm just so grateful that there are treatment options today that weren't there 10 years ago that keep me here."

As she prepared to return to the hospital for her latest round of treatment, she told The St. John's Morning Show it's time a larger facility is built in Newfoundland and Labrador, one that can accommodate the growing number of people being diagnosed with cancer in the province.

"They take such good care of their patients, [but] you know that the surroundings are not ideal. I think it's really important to create that environment."

Karl Smith is working with Dinn to help raise funds to build a bigger Murphy Centre. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Dinn is part of the In This Together campaign, a $6.5-million fundraising effort to expand the Murphy Centre to meet the increased demand.

When she first received treatment at the centre, she said, the unit was spacious, and she could easily have multiple family members visiting at once.

But now, the Murphy Centre is jam-packed. 

"You'd walk into the chemo unit 10 years ago, it looked so big," said Dinn. "Today, the waiting room is full."

Urgent need for bigger space

Karl Smith, the chair of the campaign, says the centre is in desperate need of changes, including more capacity, consultation and private examination rooms, and an in-house pharmacy.

"Staff over there are absolutely incredible but the truth is we're just running out of space," he said.

Smith said an expected increase in cancer diagnoses over the next decade is making it imperative the centre is expanded soon.

"Over the next six or seven years we expect to see a 40 per cent increase in the diagnosis of cancer in this province,"  he said.

"Already we're out of space so you can imagine the the difficulties that presents.… It needs to be done and needs to be done now."

An expanded Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre would be triple the size of the current facility. (Submitted by Susan Glynn)

A space has been secured with $1.5 million in funding from the provincial government, said Smith, who added an additional $1.44 million has been donated by the Hebron Project Employers' Association, but more money is still needed to make this expansion a reality.

"The staff, the doctors, they're so incredible. I just feel that whatever I can do to help them advance that and be better at that … then I want to do that," said Smith.

Dinn wants to be here as long as she can be

As long as she's able to, Dinn will continue speaking out in support of better treatment for cancer patients.

On Friday morning, she arrived at the Murphy Centre for her latest chemotherapy appointment.

Doctors found spots on her liver earlier this month, so it's back to the hospital once again for what is by now a familiar process.

She hopes that if this campaign meets its goal, more people living with cancer will be able to live longer. 

"We need to be able to help all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Every dollar will help," she said.  

"Let's build this and let's keep our family members with us for as long as we can."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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