North

Medical travel delays lead to chemotherapy delays for Tuktoyaktuk woman

A woman in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., says she's missed three chemotherapy appointments because of the way the territory's medical travel policies have been applied.

'Any time there is a treatment delay it potentially is not going to work as well,' says Dr. Anna Reid

Lucy Dillon of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., waits for a flight at the Yellowknife airport. She has cancer and travels to Yellowknife for chemotherapy treatments. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

A woman in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., says she's missed three chemotherapy appointments because of the way the territory's medical travel policies have been applied. 

Lucy Dillon has cancer and needs to fly to Yellowknife for treatment. Her flights are covered by the territory's medical travel program but planes don't leave Tuktoyaktuk if the weather is bad.

Dillon says she's tried to give the medical travel office in Inuvik notice if it looks like bad weather could delay her departure, but they haven't allowed her to travel any earlier than the day before her treatment. 

"A lot of times it's really frustrating," she says.

Lucy Dillon and her husband Eddie. (submitted by Lucy Dillon)

"I call them saying the the weather's going to be bad on Monday for my appointment Tuesday, is it possible that you can change it to Sunday so I can make it for Monday? They said no you can't."

Dillon says it's happened three different times, causing her treatments to be delayed for up to two weeks.

Dr. Anna Reid, medical director at Stanton Territorial Hospital, says when treatment is delayed, it may lower chemotherapy's effectiveness.

"The research shows that it's the best results in terms of either curing the cancer or putting the cancer in remission if we actually give it on that schedule," she said.

"So any time there is a treatment delay it potentially is not going to work as well."

She added that delays in treatment "can cause a huge amount of anxiety" for patients.

"For some people it's very difficult to lose that sense of control when they're already in a situation where control is challenging because they're going through this kind of illness."

In a statement, the medical travel office in Yellowknife said exceptions can be made to the travel policy to account for bad weather. 

It's not clear why that hasn't been the case three times for Dillon.  

Dillon says that the day after her chemo, she feels ill and flying is difficult.

"I just wish I could stay another day," she said. "Another day would make me feel better to fly, instead of flying when you're very, very sick."

Reid says no patients have asked to stay longer to ease their symptoms before flying.

"We wouldn't put someone on a commercial flight if their symptoms weren't controlled," says Reid.

She says patients should voice their concerns about any aspect of their chemotherapy treatment, including travel arrangements.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now