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'I really feel we made the right decision': Yarmouth's Sandy Dennis believes cancer care review will help improve lives for cancer patients

Sandy Dennis looks over some of the pills that she has to take on a daily basis because of her cancer TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Sandy Dennis looks over some of the pills that she has to take on a daily basis because of her cancer TINA COMEAU PHOTO - Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH – As sick as she was from her own cancer, Yarmouth resident Sandy Dennis always made sure never to miss a meeting of the steering committee that was part of a review of cancer care in western Nova Scotia.

She was wheeled into meetings in her wheelchair. At times she was very sick and on heavy medication.

“When I couldn’t be there in person, I was on teleconference. Even travelling to Halifax for treatment and appointments, we’d have to stop the car sometimes so I could be in on the meetings,” she says.

Sandy Dennis has always looked out for the needs others. She says what she missed most is being out in the community doing good deeds for others. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Sandy Dennis has always looked out for the needs others. She says what she missed most is being out in the community doing good deeds for others. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

When the review process first started – and even before that– Dennis (who is battling stage 4 terminal cancer and also pushed for a cancer care review) says her heart was set on seeing a radiation therapy unit at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital to serve patients in western Nova Scotia.

But this isn’t the recommendation to come out of the extensive review and Dennis is fine with that. She calls it the right decision.

“I’m really happy with the outcome,” she says. “It could have been a yes or no and left at that. We all went in there with an open mind, but my heart was set on having a unit here.”

However, Dennis says as they went more in depth into the review and more information came to light, it changed her outlook. She says even with a radiation unit in Yarmouth patients wouldn’t have access to the same level of treatment they can receive in Halifax where state-of-the-art, up-to-date treatment exists along with access to a team of specialists. Both things – state-of-the-art advancements and staffing – would have been hard to pull off in Yarmouth, she acknowledges.

She says the recommendations to come out of the review have the ability to make a difference in people’s lives.
“I see value in this. It was a vote of 12-2 (by the steering committee). The steering committee, including myself, recommended developing an enhanced suite of services and supports rather than just do radiation therapy service in the area,” she says. “Those proposed services will include travel supports, improved appointment co-ordination, enhanced use of technology and development of new treatments to minimize how often people have to travel and how long they have to be away from home and enhanced psychological supports.”

After spending time in Halifax for her own radiation treatments – and seeing the burden such travel causes for cancer patients and their families from this region – Dennis welcomes changes aimed at lessening financial and travel burdens.

Dr. Drew Bethune, the medical director of Nova Scotia Cancer Care, and provincial Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey, stand outside the Yarmouth Regional Hospital on Jan. 30. They were in town to deliver the results of a cancer care review. TINA COMEAU
Dr. Drew Bethune, the medical director of Nova Scotia Cancer Care, and provincial Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey, stand outside the Yarmouth Regional Hospital on Jan. 30. They were in town to deliver the results of a cancer care review. TINA COMEAU

“Sometimes you go all the way to Halifax to find out there’s nothing wrong or there’s something wrong, but the appointment could have been done through tele-health,” she says. “I want our money to go to something that is going to enhance our cancer care system.”

“I know it’s hard for some people to take. When I first went in my whole heart was, yes, I want this radiation unit, but boy, were my eyes opened when we went through our meetings,” she says.

Dennis thanks Dr. Drew Bethune of the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Cancer Care Program for leading the review and ensuring it was thorough and explored and examined all angles.

“He’s like a dog with a bone, he’s not going to let this go,” she says. “We are so fortunate to have him.”

She’s thankful to the committee and Dr. Bethune for being so diligent and to the health minister for being so receptive to the review’s recommendations, which she hopes the government as a whole will also agree with.

“Minister (Randy) Delorey, he’s very sympathetic to our needs and I feel he’ll fight for us,” she says.

Both Bethune and Delorey made the point of meeting directly with Dennis while in town last week, making a personal visit to her home. It was both unexpected and appreciated, she says. Dennis says it was indicative of the inclusion she felt as part of the review’s steering committee.

“I had nothing to do with the health-care system but each meeting I went to, they included me in everything. There was nothing that I didn’t understand when I left that room. And there was nobody that made you feel inferior,” she says. She’s thankful to have been chosen by the town and municipal units in Yarmouth County to be their representative on the committee.

Dennis is hopeful the work of the review will improve the lives of cancer patients – even though a radiation unit wasn’t seen as a possibility.

“I’m really happy,” she says. “I don’t feel any remorse or regret on not going with the radiation unit. I really feel we made the right decision.”

READ ALSO:

• Read our story from Jan. 30 – NO RADIATION UNIT FOR YARMOUTH BUT CHANGES AIM TO REDUCE STRESS ON PATIENTS – to learn more about the rationale behind the decision and the proposed changes. 

• From August 2018: 'I feel really blessed': Yarmouth resident Sandy Dennis living with terminal cancer but still always thinking of others 

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