Cancer patient fears disease will get worse after surgery canceled

Editor’s note: Late last week, a patient advocate working on Cassandra Di Maria’s case was told that a date had now been set for the operation. On Saturday morning, Di Maria found out that, barring further delays, her surgery will take place on January 26.

As she waits to find out when she might be able to have surgery, Cassandra Di Maria fears the cancer inside her is growing.

The 30-year-old Woodbridge resident has stage 4 colon cancer and stopped chemotherapy in October after 17 cycles of treatment. She was expecting to have an operation to remove a tumor from an ovary as well as spots, including on her liver.

After the operation, Di Maria planned to focus on her recovery and planning her wedding, scheduled for later this year.

Then Omicron came to Canada, filling hospitals to the brim with COVID-19 patients and dealing a vicious blow to Di Maria’s hopes of leaving her cancer in the past and moving on with her life.

“I’m young and trying to do a lot of things and it’s affected that,” she said. “I was glad to be done with it and start living my life again, but no.”

Since Di Maria stopped chemotherapy, her operation has been delayed three times and no longer has a date to perform it. In the meantime, she says, she hasn’t been able to book a scan to see if her cancer is spreading.

An email from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, where her surgery is to be performed, specifically said the delay is due to the “situation with COVID” and that she would be contacted as soon as they know when they can fix it. a new date.

Not starting chemo again, in case a window for her operation arises, Di Maria sits, waits and fears that the progress she has made in the fight against cancer since November 2020 will be undone.

“Quitting chemo gives the cancer the chance to spread further,” she said. “I’m afraid things have gotten worse since my last treatment.”

While Di Maria calls on “all parties involved” to rethink how they balance resources amid COVID, his plight is not unique.

A number of surgeries have been canceled across Ontario as hospitals struggle to make room for COVID patients and the Omicron variant ravages the province. On Friday, Ontario had more than 3,800 people hospitalized with the disease.

New modeling from the federal government suggests Canada could see 170,000 cases a day by the end of the month, even with restrictions.

The Ontario Ministry of Health says that because of the Omicron variant, it has issued “Directive #2” for hospitals and regulated healthcare professionals. The directive “temporarily suspends” elective and elective surgeries, Bill Campbell of the ministry’s media relations department wrote in an email.

Campbell did not answer how many of those surgeries have been canceled in Ontario, but that the directive opened up 1,200 to 1,500 acute care beds.

“We know this difficult decision can be painful for people in need of hospital care,” he wrote.

It is up to hospitals to balance their resources between COVID patients and those who need operations for things such as cancer or bypass surgery and to decide which surgeries cannot be delayed, he wrote.

But the Canadian Cancer Society calls the delays for people like Di Maria “deeply concerning”.

Dr Stuart Edmonds, the society’s executive vice president of mission, research and advocacy, said while it’s appreciated that health systems are under a lot of stress due to COVID, governments need to exercise caution when making decisions that impact other diseases.

“We urge our provincial governments to look very carefully at the impacts of suspending or delaying all kinds of cancer services at this time,” Edmonds said.

He said nearly 85,000 Canadians are expected to die of cancer in 2021, stressing the importance of prioritizing cancer surgeries.

Edmonds said a delay of four weeks, for example, could increase the risk of death from cancer by 10%.

Also, he said, delays in the cancer screening process can lead to more people being diagnosed with cancer at later stages of the disease. He said that in the future, the pause in screening programs could pose significant problems.

The delays come as no surprise, said Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart. The CMA has raised concerns about the strain COVID will put on surgeries throughout the pandemic, Smart said.

The healthcare system was under-resourced before the pandemic, she said, and with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, it can’t do anything but wait. The shortage of hospital staff is even worse, because the Omicron variant affects them.

“To be honest, I don’t think we currently have enough leverage to significantly alter this trajectory over the next few weeks,” Smart said.

Canada’s health care systems have been “operating at the limit” for some time, she added, and now the results are being felt with “collateral damage” hitting people who need serious operations.

Smart said surgeries canceled due to the Omicron push amounted to triage.

“We have to be honest about what’s going on in our system,” Smart said. “We need to be clear that, at this time, we are unable to meet the urgent and emerging needs of many people. It will likely get worse over the next few weeks before we get out of this wave.

Di Maria, meanwhile, said the situation she finds herself in cannot be blamed on any particular agency or individual. She said COVID has brought a number of challenges on top of that.

Although, she says, she doesn’t know what can be done to get her and the others onto the operating table more quickly, it’s clear that changes need to be made to the system.

“COVID is serious, yes, and they deserve treatment, but so do I and other people with other illnesses,” she said. “We all deserve the treatment we need.”

Comments are closed.