A St. Albert couple is pleading with residents to be responsible this holiday season and avoid meeting with friends and family.
Janis Chapman and David Cleary were both diagnosed with cancer this year and both of them have experienced delayed cancer surgeries due to COVID overload at hospitals.
“(We were told) there were COVID patients in the operating room, recovery rooms,” Chapman said. “That’s why the surgeries are slowing down or stopping, because there are so many COVID patients.”
Cleary was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the start of the pandemic. Chapman said her husband has spent six months just waiting. It’s been slow getting tests and results, and getting in to see specialists. He was supposed to have surgery at the beginning of December, but that was cancelled last week.
Chapman said these delays are a real problem.
“His cancer was operable. And we don't know what's happened now – we don't know. You know, we haven't had a test of late. We don't know,” she said.
A CBC news article reported on Dec. 10, as COVID-19 case counts ballooned in the province, that around 60 per cent of non-urgent surgeries that require hospitalization would be postponed and that only surgeries that require emergent treatment would be performed.
Other services, like clinical support and diagnostic imagining, would be reduced by 40 per cent and ambulatory visits and procedures would be reduced by up to 70 per cent. All of these reductions were a response to increased COVID hospitalizations.
Doctors told the couple this was the first time during the pandemic that cancer treatments were being cancelled.
Three weeks ago, Chapman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was assigned a surgery date immediately after her diagnosis, but that date was cancelled the next day. She said her cancer is intermediate and she isn’t sure what effect the delay will have on her health.
“It's not the kind of thing you want to just leave, right? They couldn't really tell me – I did ask – what difference will the month make or two months. I don't know," she said.
“I'm sure we will get an operation eventually, and probably that will be fine, but will it mean that we don't have the survivability that we would have had if we'd gotten sooner treatment? I don't know."
Despite provincial restrictions prohibiting social gatherings, the couple is worried people will still get together for Christmas and New Years and there will be an explosion of COVID cases in the new year.
“If there's a boom of people getting sick after getting together for Christmas, like there was after Thanksgiving, you know it takes a few weeks to see that happen – then the hospitals are not going to be getting any relief in January or maybe February. It's not great,” she said.
After Thanksgiving, the province saw a steady uptick in COVID-19 patients. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said our health system is still dealing with the outfall from that holiday.
Chapman said it seemed critical they get the news out to let people know it isn’t just elective surgeries that are being cancelled and it is important that everyone takes the public health measures seriously.
“I feel that if everybody does their part over the holiday season here at Christmas, New Year’s – whatever your holiday is – that will help,” she said. “If they don't, if everyone gets together and has parties and family over and feels that they're the exception to the rule, then the hospitals will not be very functional.”
If COVID case numbers get back under control and hospitals see some relief, Chapman said her husband's doctor told them it is possible Cleary could have surgery in January, but everyone needs to do their part.
“You know, bite the bullet for four weeks here,” said Chapman. “Then come January, there may be a chance – (the doctor) actually told Dave he's the first one in line, so he could potentially have an operation right away in January.”