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'I feel like they dropped the ball and rolled the dice with my life': B.C. woman says cancer spread after lengthy wait for chemo

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A Vancouver Island woman who says her cancer spread while she waited month after month for chemotherapy is calling on the province to do better for patients like herself.

Loni Atwood, 43, was enjoying her life with her two sons and her work as a riding instructor and trainer when she received devastating news in April of last year.

On a visit to the emergency room at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, she learned she had an extremely aggressive and rare adrenal cancer.

She would undergo surgery at Vancouver General Hospital the following month.

“The care plan going up to surgery was…that there was going to be a preventative chemo plan and I would be starting it immediately after surgery,’ she said in an interview with CTV News.

But after surgery, she waited for a call from BC Cancer to start chemotherapy.

She said it would take ten months just to see an oncologist.

“You can’t call BC Cancer and say, ‘Hey, I’m waiting for my pathology. Can someone give me a call back?’” she said.

While she waited, she said, her cancer spread.

‘It is Stage 4,” Atwood explained.

“What kept playing in my head is this can’t be. This is a nightmare that I'm just not waking up from,” the Parksville resident said.

She believes part of the problem was not having, or being able to find, a family doctor. Still, she says, the wait for treatment was far too long.

“I feel like they dropped the ball and rolled the dice with my life,” she said.

Dan Quayle, 52, who lived in Victoria, was also waiting for chemotherapy, but as the weeks passed, his health declined. He opted for medically assisted death and died November 24.

Last week, Premier David Eby said that “any wait time for an individual facing a cancer diagnosis is unacceptable for them and their families, and for me.”

The premier said his government is working to improve cancer treatment.

“I’ve directed the health minister to work with the cancer agency to address wait times; they are unacceptable for British Columbians,” he said.

In a statement to CTV News Sunday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said that as of the second quarter of this year, 1,628 patients underwent chemotherapy, and of those, almost 86 per cent started treatment within 14 days.

“As the Minister of Health, I am committed to improving cancer care treatment capacity so that every patient has access to treatment within the timeframe of established clinical benchmarks,” Dix said.

“Compared to the same period in the previous year, BC Cancer is seeing more patients treated with shorter waits,” he said, explaining that his ministry has hired 61 new cancer care doctors since April and 27 radiation therapists since October.

He said that as of Dec. 6, more than 320 B.C. cancer patients have completed radiation therapy in the U.S.

“In the past two weeks, more than 50 patients per week have received radiation therapy in the U.S.,” the minister said.

Recently reported numbers indicated only 75 per cent of patients in B.C. had been getting radiation within the recommended 28-day benchmark.

Meanwhile, Atwood, who said she is determined to battle her cancer into remission, is urging the province to do more to help cancer patients in a timely manner.

“You need to carve out time to fix this. This is a huge problem. People are losing their lives,” she said.

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