Flooding in Abbotsford deprives patients of cancer treatment, dialysis and needed care

“It’s time for the stampede. You are already under extreme stress when a family member has cancer. So it’s really not easy to manage. “

As floodwaters rose in Abbotsford on Tuesday, 18-year-old Dylan Putz’s path to cancer treatment in Vancouver appeared to be disappearing with swathes of Highway 1.

The mountain bike enthusiast and intern electrician was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer in September 2020. He makes the nearly two-hour drive east of Chilliwack to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver at least once a week for over a year.

But when the freeway was washed away by flooding and mudslides near Abbotsford and Hope, cutting Chilliwack and Hope off from the rest of the province, his appointment to place a gastric drain on Thursday and his intention to start a new series chemotherapy drugs have been compromised.

“You don’t want to procrastinate… especially when you have cancer treatment, any delay is scary,” Dylan’s mother Carmen Putz said in an interview Thursday as Dylan recovered at the hospital. hospital.

Dylan and his father, Brian Putz, were able to board a helicopter chartered by Brian’s employer to navigate the floods to Abbotsford, where the construction company also arranged a truck for them to travel to. in Vancouver.

While he did, young Putz was among hundreds of patients in the Chilliwack and Hope areas struggling to find a way to get essential health care only accessible in Abbotsford and Vancouver amid ‘Record flooding, evacuations and closures of Highways 1 and 7.

According to the most recent data available, in 2012, more than 720 people in Chilliwack and Hope are diagnosed with cancer each year, a number that has likely increased as better screening practices increase rates of cancer diagnosis in Colombia. -British.

Dozens of comments from Fraser Valley residents on a Chilliwack Facebook group describe cancer and dialysis patients stranded in Abbotsford far from home and their usual medications, or stuck behind the flood line with no plan for obtain timely care for a variety of chronic and urgent conditions.

Fraser Health has organized flights for patients between Chilliwack and Abbotsford, Carmen said, but many Fraser Valley residents treated in Vancouver are not even on their radar. (Cancer care is coordinated by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the vast majority is provided in Vancouver.)

Neither she nor Gabrielle Kristzl Toth have been contacted to travel to Vancouver for treatment, despite private charter flights from Chilliwack Airport for patients treated under the authority of Fraser Health.

“We basically work with Vancouver Coastal Health, so Fraser Health doesn’t even know us,” Toth said in an interview.

Toth’s husband Chuck Toth was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August and is due to have surgery to remove the cancer on Monday.

But she’s unsure how they’re going to get there and is getting ready to show up along the recently opened lane on Highway 7 for commercial and essential vehicles to navigate their way.

Chuck’s surgery has already been delayed once due to a pandemic-related staff shortage at Vancouver General Hospital, Toth said, “and he’s a cancer patient, so hurry up”.

The stress is compounded by having to sort out the couple’s two dog care and pay for a hotel in Vancouver for a longer period because she can’t make the round trip.

“It’s time for the scramble,” Toth said. “You are already under extreme stress when a family member has cancer. So it’s really not easy to manage. “

The flooding has also disrupted a number of patients traveling from Chilliwack to Abbotsford for dialysis and other cancer care.

Fraser Health has confirmed that it is coordinating some emergency transport for patients trapped by highway closures between Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

“Fraser Health has been in contact with all affected dialysis patients and is assisting a small number of Chilliwack residents who require access to dialysis services at the Abbotsford Community Dialysis Unit or at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital. ‘Abbotsford,’ a spokesperson said in a follow-up email.

“We coordinate air travel and accommodation, if necessary, for these people.”

The Provincial Health Services Authority said about 70 patient appointments at BC Cancer Abbotsford have been canceled or delayed due to flooding in the past three days, but the vast majority of its more than 400 daily appointments are are being prosecuted.

The health authority is prioritizing emergency care and said cancer patients are considered essential travelers to access the single-lane Highway 7 which recently reopened.

“Where appropriate, BC Cancer is exploring all transportation options for our patients, on a case-by-case basis, as our priority is to ensure that patients have access to the timely care they need,” wrote a spokesperson. by The Tyee.

The Department of Health said in a statement that cancer care facilities in Abbotsford and Vancouver were not affected by the flooding, but patients without transportation to get to their appointments should contact their cancer center for assistance in arranging transportation and accommodation.

For Toth, this underscores the need to invest in specialized health services in Chilliwack itself, and not just rely on people traveling to Vancouver for essential care.

She and Charles moved to Chilliwack from Surrey near the start of the pandemic after retiring from bus drivers in Vancouver, but traveled to Vancouver for all of her tests and screenings as wait times in Chilliwack for a simple CT scans lasted for up to six weeks.

Toth hopes this is a red flag for further investments in specialty care in Chilliwack and Hope.

“The real specialists are in Vancouver,” she says. “So when your access is cut off from that hub, you’re basically at their mercy. “

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