Kim Rideout remembers many days travelling white-knuckled to Calgary through snow storms to access cancer radiation treatment.
Rideout, of Red Deer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 when she was 44.
“I was fighting cancer but I also felt like I was fighting Mother Nature and it was exhausting because she always won,” Rideout told officials who attended Wednesday’s official opening of the new $46 million Central Alberta Cancer Centre that now provides radiation treatment.
“Every morning I would get up and the first thing I would do is look at the road reports.”
After six rounds of chemotherapy in Red Deer, she needed 16 rounds of radiation. In total, she travelled 5,500 km to make 18 trips to Calgary. Fuel cost close to $1,000.
“I was lucky I could afford to do that. But there’s many families that can’t. A thousand dollars is a lot of money, but they have no choice.”
Rideout was thrilled most patients in Central Alberta will now be able to avoid the stress of travel and the cost.
About 80 per cent of Central Alberta cancer patients will now be able to get their full treatment in Red Deer at the new cancer centre, located at Red Red Deer Regional Hospital.
Central Alberta Cancer Centre is more than 43,055 square feet — four times the size of Red Deer’s older cancer facility — and will handle breast, lung, prostate, bladder and gastrointestinal cancer and cases, as well as palliative patients with bone pain or other chronic discomforts who need symptom relief.
Those suffering from head and neck cancers or pediatrics will still have to make the journey to Edmonton or Calgary.
Radiation can be used before surgery to shrink cancer tumors or after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells.
Premier Alison Redford attended the opening.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to be here in Red Deer today to open the Central Alberta Cancer Centre because it supports this community. It supports families. And it supports people across Central Alberta,” she said.
Red Deer’s new cancer centre is part of the Alberta Radiation Therapy Corridor Project. In addition to the radiation treatment facilities in Calgary and Edmonton, radiation became available in Lethbridge in 2010 and will be available in Grande Prairie in two years.
Once it’s complete, 92 per cent of Albertans will be able to access radiation treatment within 100 km of their homes.
“We want to make sure we have a cancer treatment corridor from the north to the south in this province,” Redford said.
Patients started receiving radiation treatment in the Red Deer facility two days ago and chemotherapy treatment will be moved into the new facility over the weekend.
“We’ve already got 25 patients who have had the radiation treatment plans done and they’re ready for treatment so it’s ramping up very quickly,” said Dr. Paul Grundy, CancerControl Alberta with Alberta Health Services.
“Next week people will be getting chemotherapy in this facility.”
Last year 1,600 cancer patients received chemotherapy in Red Deer. The new centre expects to provide radiation to 600 patients a year.
“We will see over 2,000 patients a year through this clinic.” The new cancer centre has more treatment and examination rooms, outpatient clinics, a medical day unit and a pharmacy.
Construction of the two-storey cancer centre at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre started in December 2010.
The old cancer centre at the hospital will become part of the hospital.
Grundy said providing radiation in Red Deer will open up treatment capacity in Calgary and Edmonton so there will be more Albertans treated because of the Central Alberta Cancer Centre.
Every day, 42 Albertans learn they have cancer and by 2030 that’s expected to grow to 73 new cases.