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Cancer patient faces surgery delay

Jul 28 2012

A North Saanich woman has been told she'll have to wait until the fall to have a cancerous lump removed from her breast because her surgeon cannot get enough operating time during the summer months.

Lydia Wingate, 79, knows she has a cancerous lump in her breast but she doesn't know its severity. She won't know with certainty the cancer's stage (1-4), or grade (how aggressively the cancer is growing) until the lump is removed and examined, she said.

"I'm left in limbo until the fall," Wingate said.

As a retired cancer epidemiologist who chooses to be optimistic, Wingate's outlook is both clinical and positive.

"I have the good fortune of having the education to know this is probably not life-threatening," Wingate said.

Her greatest concern is for other women receiving such news only to be told they have to wait months for surgery. Wingate was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in early July.

"You can't leave people with cancer sitting around waiting - you shouldn't. It's just immoral. Outrageous," Wingate said.

"Imagine a young woman told she has breast cancer but has to wait seven or eight weeks to know if it's serious or not."

Wingate said her surgeon, Alison Ross, is an excellent doctor who apologized profusely for the wait. The doctor explained that she was given only five operating days over the summer slowdown at Vancouver Island Health Authority hospitals, such as Victoria General Hospital.

No matter what the results of an MRI on Monday - whether it dictates a lumpectomy or mastectomy - Wingate said she's been told by her physician the earliest surgery date is September.

However, VIHA spokeswoman Shannon Marshall said any wait has nothing to do with summertime surgical slowdowns.

A "summer slowdown" in surgical procedures involves only non-urgent elective surgeries, Marshall said.

"During a seasonal slowdown, emergent and urgent surgeries - such as cancer surgery - are given high priority to ensure they are done in a timely way," Marshall said in an email.

"These seasonal slowdowns are necessary so that our physicians and staff - like everyone else - can take time off and spend time with family and friends," Marshall said.

VIHA said it takes about four to five weeks to get some test results back and these results then help a team to determine a treatment path with or without surgery.

"That is absolute garbage; there are no more tests [after Monday]," Wingate said.

Wingate was applying body lotion in late June when "quite by accident" she felt a lump and thought "what the heck is this."

Coincidentally, she already had a doctor's appointment scheduled the next day.

Wingate said her care was good and swift. She had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy done in succession on the same day, July 4. She received the results about a week afterward and was referred to the surgeon a week after that.

Despite her calm, Wingate said: "My poor daughters are freaking out."

Her younger daughter, 44, is flying in from Britain on Monday, while the older daughter, 47, lives in Victoria.

Wingate was dean of the college of health professions at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and dean of the School of Allied Health at the University of Kansas before that. Her husband, an obstetrics and gynecology surgeon, died in 2005.

"This [appeal] is not going to help me. No one's going to say, 'Poor Lydia, open some operating theatre for her,' " Wingate said. "But we have to wear away at the government. This is a huge issue because no cancer patient should be left to wait over the summer."

Cancer is not a death sentence, as many think, Wingate said. However, given that's the way many patients initially interpret the news, it's important they be diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion, she said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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