Mal­func­tion­ing ma­chine leaves pa­tients in limbo

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Twelve years re­moved from surgery for lung can­cer, Ja­nis Walsh is anx­iously wait­ing to chart a treat­ment plan for her sec­ond bout with can­cer.“It just kind of mys­ti­fies me that you should have to wait so long for one test that keeps ev­ery­thing else from mov­ing for­ward,” Walsh said at her home in Regina on Fri­day.That “one test” is a PET (positron emis­sion to­mog­ra­phy) scan, to see if the can­cer has spread from her right-side chest wall and sev­enth rib.Un­til that test has been done, her doc­tors won’t know how to pro­ceed with her treat­ment.When Walsh last met with an on­col­o­gist at the Al­lan Blair Can­cer Cen­tre on Dec. 21, staff let it slip that Saskatchewan’s lone PET ma­chine, lo­cated at Saska­toon’s Royal Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal, was down.“I was told it would be a cou­ple of weeks” to be sched­uled for a PET scan, said Walsh.Now four weeks re­moved from her first ap­point­ment with an on­col­o­gist, and 6 ½ weeks re­moved from her Stage 4 di­ag­no­sis, Walsh is anx­ious and stressed about her fu­ture.“I still even haven’t had so much as a phone call,” said Walsh.Walsh doesn’t know if she’ll have surgery, or if she should ex­pect six weeks of in­tense ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy. She said her on­col­o­gist sug­gested both as op­tions, depend­ing on the PET scan re­sults.When she had lung can­cer in De­cem­ber 2006, surgery was enough to cure it.“I think about peo­ple, other peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion — and I’m sure there’s hun­dreds of them out there that are go­ing through the same thing that I am. And I just feel like it has to change,” she said, cry­ing.In an emailed state­ment, the Saskatchewan Health Au­thor­ity confirmed the PET ma­chine was af­fected for seven days in De­cem­ber, post­pon­ing scans for 69 pa­tients.Be­tween Dec. 3 and 10, “There were dis­rup­tions … due to a sup­plier be­ing un­able to pro­vide a reg­u­larly sched­uled ship­ment of a ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal. This re­sulted in scans be­ing af­fected for a to­tal of six days.“We were able to do a few scans on one of the six days af­ter ac­cess­ing a small amount of ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal from a dif­fer­ent sup­plier.“Of the 57 pa­tients af­fected dur­ing this time frame, the most ur­gent pa­tients have al­ready been scanned or been re­booked.”In late De­cem­ber, an equip­ment mal­func­tion halted ser­vice for one day, im­pact­ing 12 pa­tients.“We are con­tin­u­ing to work to have ap­point­ments re­booked for all pa­tients af­fected by the dis­rup­tions as quickly as pos­si­ble. The Saskatchewan Health Au­thor­ity will be get­ting ad­di­tional ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and will be bring­ing in ad­di­tional staff to as­sist with this ef­fort.”In the mean­time, Walsh won­ders why there is only one PET scan ma­chine to serve the en­tire prov­ince.She said she phoned the Al­lan Blair on Fri­day af­ter­noon and was told the PET scans are 11 weeks be­hind.“It’s a big prov­ince and there’s a lot of peo­ple that are di­ag­nosed with can­cer all the time and it ob­vi­ously is a very im­por­tant piece of equip­ment that is needed,” said Walsh.“I think they need to have a backup plan for peo­ple that are sit­ting and wait­ing. … The wait­ing is the hard­est part, the not know­ing.”Walsh said she has started to lose hope in this sit­u­a­tion. “And be­lieve me, if can­cer pa­tients need any­thing, it’s hope and en­cour­age­ment go­ing for­ward.”The SHA stated that the cur­rent PET scan­ner, in­stalled in 2013, is enough to serve Saskatchewan pa­tients “within tar­geted time frames,” ac­cord­ing to pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions and de­mand fore­casts.

Ja­nis Walsh of Regina has been wait­ing for more than three weeks for a PET scan to de­ter­mine the treat­ment method for her can­cer.

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