Radiation therapy in Red Deer a big deal

Any Central Albertan who has gone through radiation therapy knows the hardship involved — as do their families, friends and health care providers.

Any Central Albertan who has gone through radiation therapy knows the hardship involved — as do their families, friends and health care providers.

As if struggling with cancer itself isn’t enough, travelling to Edmonton or Calgary for treatment is an added burden.

There’s no other choice for Central Albertans but to go to one of the two big cities, or decline the important treatment that kills cancer cells, often stopping or slowing the spread of the disease.

This is all going to change in a very big and very positive way for Central Alberta.

In fact, when radiation therapy finally becomes available in Red Deer in 2012, it will be one of the more significant improvements to Central Alberta health care services in awhile.

The Central Alberta Cancer Centre, located at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, is about to see a $60-million expansion that will include facilities for radiation therapy.

Funding is coming from the province, except for $11 million being provided by the feds for equipment.

Radiation therapy is a tough go for many, further weakening already-ill people’s immune systems and bodies. But there’s no shortage of people wanting it as they do battle with cancer. About half of all people diagnosed with cancer can benefit from radiation.

The cancer centre in Red Deer accepted 540 new patients last year. When the expanded facility opens in 2012, it will have the capacity to accept 900 new patients annually, serving local needs until at least 2020. Each year, hundreds of people will be able to get treatment a lot closer to home.

Until the expansion is complete, all cancer patients who require radiation therapy will continue to go to Edmonton or Calgary.

The expansion won’t eliminate all trips to the big city for radiation treatment. Some rarer types of cancer, such as pediatric, and in the head and neck, won’t be treated locally. But as many as 80 per cent of people with cancer could receive radiation therapy in Red Deer.

Having witnessed the process these past few years after a family member and then a close friend (both from Red Deer) were diagnosed with cancer, leaving for radiation is not a simple task for either the people with cancer, or their loved ones.

When someone locally receives treatment they are either admitted to hospital in Calgary or Edmonton, or they are outpatients. As outpatients they may need a place to stay or help travelling back and forth. They face expenses those closer to treatment don’t.

They also need support. Their loved ones cannot be there as often as much as they would like, sometimes simply because of weather and distance. Those same loved ones are often also involved in such ways as providing transportation or taking time off work to help care for the person after therapy.

The cancer centre expansion in Red Deer can’t come soon enough.

It’s a big deal, and it’s one thing a beleaguered Alberta Health Services has got right.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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