Cancer survivor says travelling south for chemo left her 'drained'

Cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Stanton hospital in Yellowknife have been transferred to a facility in Edmonton. N.W.T. health officials aren't sure when the service will return.

N.W.T. health authority says more time is needed to improve cancer treatment program in Yellowknife

Kelsey McGinley, right, is pictured with her fiancé Brent Townend. She is now cancer-free, but said travelling between Edmonton and Hay River for her chemotherapy treatment in 2016 was draining. (Submitted by Christina Marie Photography)

Northwest Territories residents requiring chemotherapy treatment will have to keep travelling to Edmonton in order to get it.

The N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority has announced the service won't be returning to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife this month, as was originally intended.

In fact, officials are not sure when the service will return.

In a Feb. 12 update, the health authority said it is facing a number of challenges that have postponed the return of chemotherapy services to the hospital.

Health officials say they will keep the public abreast of updates when they become available. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Those include issues co-ordinating staff schedules so they can receive training, and the potential need to purchase new equipment.

"This process is affected by external factors and at this time it is not possible to provide an accurate timeline for this work to be complete," states the update posted online.

Chemotherapy services were temporarily put on hold in December, after Cancer Control Alberta conducted a review of cancer care and chemotherapy treatment at Stanton.

A number of suggestions to improve services came out of the review, including more training for staff and policy improvements.

However, the health authority said in its update that it — not Cancer Control Alberta — made the decision to put the chemotherapy program on pause in order to improve it.

It added it is "not aware of any harm caused by the chemotherapy program as it was operating before suspension."

Cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Stanton have since been transferred to the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, according to the health authority.

There were 30 people affected by the suspension in December.

Exhausting treatment

Kelsey McGinley, of Hay River, runs a cancer sharing circle for those affected by the disease.

The 32-year-old was diagnosed in 2016 with a rare form of cancer called choriocarcinoma, which normally forms in a woman's uterus, but started on the outside of her cervix.

Although she has been cancer-free since that summer, she underwent an exhausting, four-month stretch of chemotherapy in Edmonton that required her to travel back and forth to Hay River in order to see her two young children.

Some days, she spent eight hours receiving treatment at the hospital, leaving her feeling tired and ill.

I would be so drained by the end of it that I couldn't even hold my head up.- Kelsey McGinley

"There was a lot of those four months that I couldn't even get out of bed on my own," said McGinley.

"So the airplane ride was really, really hard on me."

McGinley said she "could not imagine" what it's like for N.W.T. residents in more remote, northern communities to have to travel out of the territory to get the help they need.

"I couldn't even get out of bed to walk to the washroom by myself," she said.

"So taking a plane ride was really difficult for me, and I would be so drained by the end of it that I couldn't even hold my head up."

Updates coming

No one from the health authority was available to comment.

However, its update states patients have been informed of the continued service delay and will be kept abreast of any other changes.