Members of the Revelstoke Cancer Support Group met last week to develop their lobby for chemotherapy services in Revelstoke.
The Times Review was invited to a lunchtime meeting at the Coast Hillcrest Hotel, where 13 members of the group discussed plans, which are at a fact-finding stage.
They spoke of physical and economic hardships created by the dozens of trips to Kelowna, Vernon or Salmon Arm create. The patients, often seniors, worried about the drive during the winter, when avalanche closures and big snowstorms get in the way of scheduled treatments.
One patient traveling for treatment became a caregiver recently when he rescued an injured truck driver who had been struck by falling rocks. Others spoke of dozens of trips, and countless nights in hotels and motels, creating a financial burden for themselves and their partners, who often take time off work to attend.
They wondered what can be done to bring the services here, noting Revelstoke often bands together to provide medical services.
Members said they’d experienced some frustration dealing with health care administrators to find out ways services could be improved. At the end of the meeting, we agreed to fact-find and look into what it would take to get more chemotherapy services here.
Chemotherapy services are provided in partnership between Interior Health and the B.C. Cancer Agency. Interior Health provides funding, while the B.C. Cancer Agency (BCCA) administers and sets requirements for their programs in B.C.
Representatives from the agencies said the odds of getting chemotherapy treatment in Revelstoke are not good.
Dr. Marianne Taylor is the Vice-President of Systemic Therapy for the BCCA. She emphasized their role is to make sure a chemotherapy program is safe, and all technical and personnel requirements are met.
She said providing the service here would require two nurses trained in oncology, a pharmacist who could mix the complex, time-sensitive medicines, an appropriate pharmacy (which Queen Victoria Hospital does not have) and a physician with oncology training, Furthermore, they’d all have to demonstrate they’re getting enough ongoing training and experience to maintain competency in their treatments.
In her view, Dr. Taylor said bringing these services together in Revelstoke is not likely.
She said she understood the hardships created by travel to out-of-town treatments, but underscored that safe, effective and professional treatment is paramount.
“It’s a therapy that is quite dangerous to give,” Taylor said.
When it comes to designating community chemotherapy treatment centres, Interior Health makes funding and resource-allocation decisions.
Peter Du Toit is the administrator for acute care for the Thompson-Cariboo. He also acknowledged the hardship created by winter roads, but said Revelstoke is not a good candidate for a community clinic.
In addition to the barriers listed above, he said the number just aren’t there. Revelstoke is projected to have 44 new cancer diagnoses in 2014, and only a percentage of those require chemotherapy.
Du Toit said that number is too low. “That kind of number is certainly not enough to support a clinic,” he said. It’s not enough to support ongoing training and competency in staff, and it would a big allocation of staff resources for a small number of patients.
He noted Revelstoke doesn’t have a hospital pharmacist and relies on one from Salmon Arm.
As for community fundraising efforts for equipment, Du Toit said the real barrier is personnel, which is harder to overcome. He said creating a clinic here would be a “massive task” and Interior Health has “no plans” for one.
Revelstoke Cancer Support Group member Doug Hamilton is encouraging residents to write B.C. Minister of Health Terry Lake to push for chemotherapy treatments in Revelstoke. The minister’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org