Nfld. & Labrador

End-of-life care: people slipping through the cracks, says Cancer Society

Supports for patients and families dealing with end-of-life situations are not adequate in Newfoundland and Labrador, says the Canadian Cancer Society.

9 people a day are being diagnosed with cancer, says CEO

The Canadian Cancer Society says there nine people a day diagnosed with cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Supports for patients and families dealing with end-of-life situations are not adequate in Newfoundland and Labrador, says a top official with the Canadian Cancer Society.

Matthew Piercey, chief executive officer with the Canadian Cancer Society in Newfoundland and Labrador, said about nine people are diagnosed in the province every day with cancer — a troubling figure for the society, given that the province's population is only about 528,000. 

"Whether we know it or not, we're in a crisis mode right now in health care within our province because of the number of cases, just with cancer, but then you have all the other illnesses," said Piercey. 

"In the next 15, 20 years, that's going to go up 40 per cent. [That] is what we're predicting, so there's a strain on our health care."

Lack of support

Stories like Rodney Miller's of Port Rexton, who quit his job to care for his terminally ill wife, are not unique according to Piercey, and they're happening right across Canada.

Elizabeth Shaw-Miller and her husband Rodney Miller at their wedding in 2012. Elizabeth was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2014. (Rodney Miller)

Miller's wife is in the late stages of cancer and has a part-time support worker, but he said in a recent interview that he is not leaving his wife's side in her dying days. 

[We need] trained resources that are available and that are affordable and you don't have to go through a lot of red tape to get- Matthew Piercey

The government policy doesn't allow Miller to be a paid caregiver for his spouse, which he said has added additional anguish to an already difficult ordeal. 

Piercey agrees it would be great if Miller could stay home with his wife, and that the current policy means "people are slipping through the cracks."

"People who are caring for someone often need care themselves … what I would recommend is financial support for the family so that they can get the proper care that they need," Piercey told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"What we're missing quite a bit in our province is having trained resources that are available and that are affordable and you don't have to go through a lot of red tape to get those resources."

Many services needed

End-of-life care involves much more than just finances, Piercey said, adding that change needs to happen so that a better network of support services can be provided.

Rodney and Elizabeth with Rodney's two sons, Ryan (left) and Dustin (right). (Rodney Miller)

He said in addition to the physical, emotional and financial demands of the patient, the ordeal can also take a toll on the family and other loved ones, because all of their energy is focused on caring for that person. 

He added that where a patient lives also makes a difference in whether or not they are able to die with dignity where they wish.

"Most people want to end their life in the surroundings where they're familiar and surrounded by loved ones," he said. 

"They don't want to be in an acute care bed in a hospital but they need that support, they need that person that's going to come in because there's a lot of physical demands and medical procedures that need to be looked at on a regular basis that spouses can't be trained in," said Piercey.

"I mean, there could be some cases where towards the end it can be a frightening experience and you need someone there that's going to be able to help ease the pain, to comfort a person, to care for that person."

'Universal resources'

Piercey said every province has its own care policy and each one is different, but the Canadian Cancer Society is calling for more investment in cancer care programs across the country.

"There needs to be universal resources or at least provincial standards that are strong around providing that care, the financial support."