Cancer patient concerned after Saskatoon left without any gynecologic oncologists

A Saskatchewan family said they feel blindsided after being informed the doctors providing care for cancer patients as part of the gynecology oncology program in Saskatoon are leaving.

In a letter dated Oct. 17, 2018, patients received news that the program’s team of two doctors would be departing.


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For patients like Beth McDonald, she’ll have to be treated by professionals who know absolutely nothing about her medical history or the medical decisions the 64-year-old has made with the doctor she’s had since day one.

“I was shocked, I was disappointed. I’m under a lot of stress anyway,” McDonald said.

In July 2017, McDonald who was a dedicated school teacher in Rosetown for more than three decades, received a diagnosis of uterine cancer. She underwent major surgery followed by six chemotherapy treatments and five radiations treatments that ended in April 2018.

Months later in August, she was told the devastating news that her cancer had returned.

“I’m suppose to have six treatments of chemo again, I’m on my third one right now,” McDonald explained.

Instead of recovering, however, between chemo sessions, McDonald has spent sleepless nights thinking about the letter she got in the mail.

“I don’t know who I’ll be seeing, I don’t know where I’ll be seeing them,” McDonald said.

“Will it be Saskatoon? Will it be Regina? I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Beth McDonald and her sister Colleen McDonald.

According to the letter, one of the specialist is on an indefinite leave whereas the other is leaving her practice in early December.

The document issued by the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency also stressed several times that a patient health remains their utmost priority and assurances that their care will not be compromised.

It’s providing little comfort for family members like Colleen McDonald, who are seeing a loved one in the fight of their life.

“How can it not be compromised ? It’s going to be compromised,” Colleen said.

“I firmly believe that without having the specialist in Saskatoon that every woman’s health care is compromised.”

The gynecology oncology program is deliver in partnership between the Saskatchewan Health Authority and Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. In a joint statement to Global News, they said they are working closely together on this matter and both specialist are leaving for personal reasons.

Officials say measures that are being put in place to ensure patients receive timely care including the following:

  • New patient referrals are being triaged provincially and decisions will then be made as to the best site for the patient to be seen.
  • Patients that can be appropriately discharged to their family doctor or gynecologist will be transitioned and follow-up care guidelines will be provided, to ensure ongoing care is managed in a safe and evidenced-based way.
  • Locums will be available to assist in patient care in Saskatoon.

Locums were defined in the patient letter, but the McDonalds’ said they still have their concerns. They are highly skilled individuals trained to provide continued treatment plans, but nonetheless they are temporary doctors that are in place until a long-term plan is established.

“You’re trying to make us believe a Locum is going to replace a specialist? How is that going to work?” Colleen asked.

For Beth, she’s left wondering if there will be a gap in her treatments or in the unfortunate event that the cancer returns a third time – what and how decisions will be made about future treatments.

“I don’t know how they guarantee the same amount of care with someone that doesn’t know me.”

Exteriors of the Saskatoon Cancer Centre.

They are now calling on the province to open its purse strings and recruit above and beyond what’s needed so no family facing a cancer scare will ever have to go what they’ve gone through.

SHA says it’s actively recruiting for gyne-oncologists for the province and say efforts are already underway.

According to the letter to patients, there is also a team in Regina at the Allan Blair Cancer Center who can provide care.

Officials did confirm, however, to Global News that the pair will soon be the only two gyne-oncologists specialists in the entire province and one position will be vacated by June 30th of next year.

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