It is an absolute shame how cancer patients are processed at London’s Cancer Centre. Supposedly this is one of the best cancer centres in Canada. So I had high expectations.
After a diagnosis of cancer, you feel scared, in shock, depressed, lonely, you are literally confronting your own mortality and death. Terrified, angry and sad do not begin to cover it. And then they make you wait. One month without knowing what was going on. Without a plan. Knowing that this thing is growing inside me, but helpless and unable to get any answers.
So I call the triage nurses daily. Did the referral go through yet from the surgeon to the cancer cente? No? Why not? It’s been two weeks and all tests are now done (I had been told they were waiting on a routine echocardiograph test result to come in before sending the referral to the cancer centre and an oncologist). Have I heard the results from my echo? No. The nurse at the triage centre tells me she’s putting a note in my file for the surgeon to call me to tell me the results and tells me to ask the surgeon to make sure he sends the referral to the cancer centre. Because that’s apparently my job. As the patient. Ok I tell her thank you.
To my surprise the surgeon actually does call that afternoon. Well, actually his receptionist calls first and tells me she received the note from the triage center nurse and will make sure that the surgeon calls me that day and also tells me that she is sending the referral that day to the cancer centre. This is now one month after I’ve been diagnosed as stage 4 breast cancer. Up to this point nothing has been done in terms of treatment. I say to her “so just to clarify; you are sending the referral today to the cancer centre. So if I call tomorrow they will have it? Yes she confirms. I’m sending it today. And I say, dr Q (I’ve changed his name) will call me with the echo results today? Yes she says I will remind him myself. “Ok thank you” I say. Thank god for nurses. I hang up and write down my notes. I’ve started to keep a log of all my interactions with the triage centre and drs. I’m learning fast.
When the surgeon calls later that afternoon, I’m on guard as our first meeting did not go well. I don’t like him much, but I figure if he is a good surgeon that’s all I care about when the time comes. In meantime, I just need him to get me a damn oncologist appointment. Like three weeks ago.
I digress. Dr Q calls and he says well your scan was good but your heart isn’t not good. I think I’ve misheard him. Ive been a distance runner since I was 20, I’m a trainer, I cycle and swim and lift weights and go on solo backcountry canoe trips. Did he just say my heart is NOT good?! I say “pardon? Did you just say my heart is not good?” And he says to me “correct. in fact the cardiology report says your heart has been “severely impacted” he says then he goes on to say “and the report says severely. not mildly or moderately.” He says then “I’m just a lowly surgeon but it looks to me like you’ve had a heart attack”.
My mind is spinning. Do you have the right chart ? I want to ask him. “How can this be?” I ask him “I’m 41. I’m an athlete. I’ve never had a heart attack! I’d know.” Not always he tells me “women” he says “experience heart attacks differently than men. they don’t get the typical signs.” Then he asks me have I ever had sharp stabbing pain? Or sudden out of breath? Or sudden pressure? I think about the two episodes back in feb just before I was disgnosed. I had assumed at the time that they were just really bad panic attacks, but now… what if.? And I had been feeling out of breath a lot lately. I tell him about these things and he says well the cancer centre has a cardiologist I assume they will want you to meet with him. And then he confirms that the referral has been sent. Did I have any questions he asks me (he is being very kind and attentive), and tells me that if I don’t hear about an appointment within two weeks to call him and he will put pressure on.
I thank him and hang up. I’m in shock. again. My heart is bad? What does that mean? Can I have a heart attack? I live alone, should I be alone? I suddenly am afraid to go to sleep. I debate not telling my mom. They have enough to worry about. But I figure I better and so I call and tell her what the surgeon had said. She asks the same thing “Are they sure?” She asks. None of it makes sense.
At least the referral to the oncologist has been sent. I’m hopeful that an appointment will be made soon. I intend to call the triage line daily to harass them until I get an appointment.
Part III: Emergency Visit #1