Nova Scotia

Late nurse's crusade leads to more treatment options for Cape Breton cancer patients

Cape Bretoners now have more options for cancer treatment on the island after a successful fundraising campaign inspired by a late North Sydney, N.S., nurse.

'It gives us great pride to know that her legacy will live on,' says Brenda McCarthy's daughter

Brenda McCarthy was an operating room nurse at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney and the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney who died June 1. (Submitted by Mark Inglis)

Cape Bretoners now have more options for cancer treatment on the island after a successful fundraising campaign inspired by a late North Sydney, N.S., nurse who died from pancreatic cancer.

Brenda McCarthy was an operating room nurse at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney and the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney.

She had the option of travelling to Halifax to receive stereotactic body radiation therapy, a faster and more precise form of radiation therapy used for certain types of cancer, but declined. Instead, she received different therapies at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre in Sydney.

McCarthy didn't want other patients to have to make that choice, so she approached the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation and asked them to fundraise for the equipment.

"Brenda, actually with her family and friends, kind of ignited a flame, launched this entire campaign," said Mark Inglis, a spokesperson for the hospital foundation. "Her and her family alone at an event raised $50,000 plus … so it's pretty incredible."

Dr. Kwamena Beecham, left, the lead radiation oncologist at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, and Mark Inglis, right, communications officer for the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

In less than a year, the campaign raised $300,000, just a little more than what was needed for the equipment, which is now in use at the Cape Breton Cancer Centre, making it the only place outside of Halifax that offers the treatment in Nova Scotia.

Because of this, some islanders used to have to drive over four hours for treatments.

"It's challenging for some people to travel to Halifax to have treatment and I've had several people who have declined to go to Halifax because of the logistics involved, so this comes as welcome news for a lot of people that they can have it right here at their doorstep," said Dr. Kwamena Beecham, the centre's lead radiation oncologist.

The centre is focusing on treating people with lung cancer because lung-related diseases are particularly prominent in Cape Breton. Beecham's goal is to have doctors excel at treating one type of cancer before adding another kind.

"There are a wide range of cancers you could use this for, primarily lung, brain, pancreas, bone," he said.

Beecham with the new stereotactic body radiation therapy machine. (Submitted by Mark Inglis)

Kristina McCarthy, Brenda's daughter, said working on the project gave her mother something to focus on and uplifted the whole family.

Brenda didn't get to see the new equipment in use, but her daughter said knowing her mother's wish came true has brought the family peace.

"It gives us great pride to know that her legacy will live on and at the same time solace because obviously it's bittersweet that she can't be here to revel in this accomplishment," said Kristina McCarthy.

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About the Author

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

With files from Matthew Moore

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