Putting cancer on the run

A diagnosis of cancer is uniformly dreaded and often triggers a lightning-bolt reaction of doom and confusion.

A diagnosis of cancer is uniformly dreaded and often triggers a lightning-bolt reaction of doom and confusion.

On one of the walls at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, a poster delivers this message of solace: “Cancer is only a word.” That comforting message helps deliver hope to confused patients checking in for the first time to discuss the unknown.But for too long, cancer victims in Central Alberta faced other challenges in pursuit of treatment for their ailments.

Chief among them was the lack of adequate treatment services close to home.

On Wednesday, that barrier was removed with the opening of the long-awaited Central Alberta Cancer Centre in Red Deer.

The $46-million facility offers patients treatments that were once available only at the Tom Baker Centre and the Cross Cancer Centre in Edmonton. With no treatments available in Central Alberta, patients agonized over frequent trips on Hwy 2, battling the weather. Plus, the added stress of being isolated from family and friends whose support is essential.

About 80 per cent of Central Alberta cancer patients will now have access to full treatment at the new centre, at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Kim Rideout, a breast cancer patient from Red Deer, recalled at Wednesday’s opening her seemingly endless treks to Calgary for radiation treatments. She was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 44.

“I was fighting cancer but I also felt like I was fighting Mother Nature and it was exhausting because (nature) always won,” she recalled. “Every morning I would get up and the first thing I would do is look at the road reports.”

Rideout chalked up 5,500 km to make 18 trips to Calgary, costing her almost $1,000 in fuel alone. “I was lucky I could afford to do that,” she said. “But there’s many families that can’t. A thousand dollars is a lot of money, but they have no choice.”

The 43,055-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility provides treatment for breast, lung, prostate, bladder and gastrointestinal cancers, as well as for palliative patients with bone pain and other chronic discomforts who need symptom relief.

“It supports families. And it supports people across Central Alberta,” Premier Alison Redford said at the centre’s opening.

The support of family and friends is vital in the fight against cancer. Having loved ones close at hand eases the stress, as do familiar surroundings.

Red Deer’s facility is part of Alberta Health Service’s effort to establish the Alberta Radiation Therapy Corridor Project. The corridor eventually will provide access to radiation treatments for 92 per cent of Albertans within 100 km of their homes.

The Red Deer arm of the project will accommodate more than 2,000 patients a year, said Dr. Paul Grundy of CancerControl Alberta with Alberta Health Services

Every day, 42 Albertans learn they have cancer, and by 2030 that’s expected to grow to 73 new cases a day.

But thanks to improved treatments, research, support from the Canadian Cancer Society and local fundraisers to help purchase the latest in treatment equipment, more Central Albertans can believe today that “cancer is only a word.”

Rick Zemanek is a retired Advocate editor.

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