The B.C. Cancer Agency has no plans to replace Nanaimo’s now-retired medical oncologist, making Victoria the only city Island patients can go to see a cancer specialist.
“It’s just not good enough,” said Bette Ainsworth, a volunteer at Nanaimo’s cancer clinic and a cancer survivor, who points out that sick patients as far away as Port Hardy and remote northern communities have to travel to the southernmost tip of the Island for an in-person appointment with a medical oncologist.
That wasn’t the case four years ago when Dr. Carole Most became the only medical oncologist based north of the Malahat, but local access was scaled back in 2013. Now that Most has retired, the B.C. Cancer Agency reports it has no plans for a cancer specialist to take on the once-weekly clinic visits in Nanaimo. Nor are there any plans to decentralize the 15 oncologists based out of Victoria.
Ainsworth and cancer patient Jocelyn Pedersen, who have both previously spoken up about the need for in-person access to a medical oncologist, are renewing calls to see the return of a cancer specialist to the mid-Island.
Ainsworth would like to see resources spread out, pointing out that people with cancer are unwell physically and emotionally, making travel difficult. There’s video consult, but she says it’s new to older people who find it frustrating to talk to a screen.
Pedersen’s last appointment was “over the computer at the hospital” in a room she says had a nurse and a chair.
“You don’t feel very comfortable,” she said.
Marianne Taylor, the cancer agency’s vice-president of systemic therapy, said the once-weekly visits aren’t easy for docs based out of Victoria. Taylor says young oncologists don’t want to practise where there are no radiation oncology facilities and like to be in a protected environment with lots of colleagues. There’s also an issue of complexity.
“Medical oncology, dealing with the drugs, has become so complex with genetic tests … it’s next to impossible to be a generalist in oncology,” Taylor said.