Treatment far from home

William Pothier, 3, must travel thousands of kilometres for cancer treatment. But after 10 months, he was able to have some of his treatment at home in Iqaluit.

Three-year-old's treatment for leukemia split between Iqaluit and Montreal

William Pothier, 3, must travel thousands of kilometres away from home for cancer treatment. But for months, he was finally able to get some of his treatment in Iqaluit. (CBC)

For those in the remote North, a diagnosis of cancer can mean complete upheaval.

Treatment is usually a plane ride away, and long stays in the South are the norm.

But for one Iqaluit family, the story had a different ending.

William Pothier was on vacation in Montreal when his mother noticed unusual bruises. They were visiting a grandmother who is also a laboratory technician.

"I asked her to do bloodwork on that third day of holidays, and she did, and that's how we found out that there was something wrong with William's blood," said Martine Dupont, William’s mother.

Three-year-old William was diagnosed with leukemia. His family dropped everything and settled in for a long stay — first at Ronald McDonald House, then with grandma.

Ten months later, and after months of meetings between doctors, nurses and administrators in Montreal and Iqaluit, William was able to go home to Iqaluit.

He became one of several Nunavut children whose cases are being reviewed by a medical team that tries to identify children with complex medical needs. The team works together to determine whether those children can receive some or all of their care in the North.

"Sometimes children need to leave because we just don't have the resources here, but sometimes there's a perception that we don't have the resources here," said Dr. Radha Jetty, a consulting pediatrician at Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani General Hospital.

Weekly blood tests, home care nurses, chemotherapy injections

In Iqaluit, William gets weekly blood tests, home care nurses come to his school for chemotherapy injections and special arrangements had to be made to bring the toxic drugs to Iqaluit.

William is lucky — his family has been able to drop everything and take charge of his treatment.

People in the community have also rallied to raise money. One day, taxi drivers in the city spent a day driving for William.

This kind of support was one more reason the family wanted to get back to Iqaluit.

"We feel that it's a big part of healing just to be comfy and safe and feel safe in your own home," said Dupont.

Two years of treatment will come to an end this June.

But for now, living with cancer in the North is still a struggle. Every three weeks, William has to travel to Montreal for intensive chemotherapy. 

He spends two nights in the city before coming back home, where doctors and nurses in Iqaluit continue to do their best for this young patient.