Cancellations of cancer surgery in wake of virus outbreak worrisome for many

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Tyler Shandro

When you have been diagnosed with cancer, the last thing you want to hear from your health provider is that a life saving operation has been canceled because of the Wuhan virus pandemic.

That is the situation my sister-in-law Eloise Wanjoe finds herself in.

Eloise was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in February and had been given a surgery date of March 31. The five-week waiting period was to allow her liver to heal.

Five weeks is a long time to wait when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. But she and her husband Robert “hunkered down” in her words to get and stay healthy in preparation for the surgery.

Last week, though, she was informed that the surgery was being canceled and was not given an alternate date.

Now, a lot of cancer patients are in a similar position. It’s a frightening prospect.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement that cancer surgeries are continuing but there are issues with scheduling.

“We have experienced some issues with scheduling — as you can imagine, everything is extremely fluid right now. However, any patient — including any cancer patient — who needs urgent, emergency surgery will receive it,” the statement reads.

AHS says patients are being triaged for urgency.

It also goes on to say that this is challenging time for everyone and that it is doing all that it can to ensure urgent health care concerns are addressed.

Those are nice words, but they are just words.

As it stands now, Alberta just under 600 cases of COVID-19. There are 23 individuals being treated in hospital, with 10 of those in intensive care.

I find it hard to understand, then, why cancer surgeries are being canceled left, right and centre. Twenty-three cases in hospital should not be taxing our health care resources. I could understand the delays if there were 230 or 2,300, but 23 hospitalizations should not force cancellations.

Clearly, this is something Health Minister Tyler Shandro needs to be addressing. We cannot allow COVID-19 to endanger more lives.

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