Wait times for chemotherapy are so egregious in British Columbia that one cancer patient sought a medically assisted death to end his suffering.
Dan Quayle, 52, needed immediate chemo to prolong his life after a medical imaging scan uncovered Stage-4 esophageal cancer.
The tall, burly metal recycler constantly felt fatigued and dizzy as early as this spring, only to receive the unwanted news months later.
"I had to beg them, please don’t send him home," Kathleen Carmichael, Quayle’s spouse, told the Vancouver Sun.
What started as sharp pains in his stomach and blood in his stool quickly turned to facial swelling, body sores and feeling like "he was in a house fire."
After months of debilitating pain, the beloved grandfather received a transfer from Victoria General to the Royal Jubilee cancer centre in September.
He never returned home and went 10 weeks without so much as a single chemo session.
The province’s cancer care system has been plagued by long wait times in every step of the cancer process, from diagnostic imaging, initial consultation with an oncologist, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Just 75% of B.C. cancer patients receive radiation therapy within the recommended benchmark of 28 days, according to the B.C. Cancer Agency — falling from 77% in May.
That is far below the national average of 97% in any event, reported the Vancouver Sun, who did not receive wait time data on chemotherapy.
The agency attributed treatment delays to 16% more patients starting a cancer regimen in September than April.
However, B.C. Cancer’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi, contends hiring 27 radiation therapists since October 1 and sending eligible cancer patients to the U.S. for radiation therapy can ease wait times in the province.
In addition to the referral program, the NDP government has allocated $440 million in spending for the first three years of a 10-year plan to build new care centres in Nanaimo, Surrey, Burnaby and Kamloops.
Of the 1,310 breast and prostate cancer patients referred for radiation treatment in the U.S. between May 29 and November 10, just 310 have started treatment.
From September to early November, the average daily number of patients who receive radiation therapy in the U.S. rose from 42 to 51.
"Things have improved, and it’s directly related to recruiting more radiation therapists into the province," Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi told Postmedia. "It just took some time to ramp up."
But addressing the backlog came too late for Quayle, who received no timeline for treatment as late as November 22.
He would seek a medically assisted death two days later after telling his spouse he could handle the pain no longer.
"Every week, I would go by, and I’d say, 'It’s just another week [without treatment],'" she said. "I think I could still have my Dan if he had gotten treatment sooner."
"I wish it could be faster for the patients that I see every day," said Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi, who sympathizes with the "distress that patients and their loved ones feel when they’re faced with cancer."
"No one should go through what Quayle and his family experienced," added Quayle's spouse. "I realize our system is broken," she said. "There’s too many people with cancer waiting too long."
Dr. Kim Nguyen Chi noted that any wait is "too long" for cancer patients.