Joanne's Story

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Imagine my shock to learn that at 53 years of age, I had endometrial cancer. How could this happen to me? Seven months later I had survived surgery, chemo and 28 radiation treatments.

My name is Joanne. I’m 58 years old, was born in Saskatchewan, lived and worked my adult life in Alberta. I’m the mother of two wonderful adult children, a career woman, fitness enthusiast, and involved in my communities. I've always been active, health-conscious and a proponent of health and wellness. Imagine my shock to learn that at 53 years of age, I had endometrial cancer. How could this happen to me? Seven months later I had survived surgery, chemo and 28 radiation treatments. As my hair grew back and I lost the steroid-induced moon face, my strength and motivation to grab life by the horns also came back. Finally, I was healthy and my life once again had purpose. I will forever be thankful for those in our healthcare system who provided such excellent care, not to mention the system that provided the services free of charge! My personal narrative during that time was thank God I am a Canadian!

Immediately after my cancer treatment, I began to experience visual disturbances. Once again, I was navigating our medical system. After appointments with my family doctor, optometrist, ophthalmologist, neuro-opthamologist, oncologists, MRI and CT scans and blood tests, I finally met with a neurosurgeon, endocrinologist, and Ear Nose and Throat team to hear my diagnosis. I had a large tumor on my pituitary gland which was compressing optic nerves, carotid artery and the pituitary gland itself. The only option was surgery. Within 6 weeks I was at home recovering from surgery, and again immensely grateful for our medical system, the people in it and the resources available to us as Canadians.

However my recovery experience was frightening, and I believe due to our chronically overburdened system. My critical first night in hospital post surgery was dreadful. I was waiting for my nurse to attend to me, she told me she had a patient who was dying and that she would come to assist me ASAP. She wasn’t able to, and the other staff were also helpless to assist me. It was the longest night of my life. When the resident doctors did their rounds in the morning they were shocked to see my state. The nurse later personally apologized and I resolved to put the whole experience behind me.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my awful experience in the past for long. I needed a second brain surgery. However, this one was performed with more current technology and achieved greater success in debulking the tumor.

Going into the second surgery, I had huge misgivings about being at the mercy of our overburdened system. I felt that by agreeing to the surgery, I was putting my life at risk above that risk inherent in the surgery itself. After I discussed my misgivings with my physician and neurosurgeon and hospital administration, I agreed to proceed. The wait time for this surgery was seven excruciating months. After surgery, I spent two weeks in an overcrowded ward, had my share of issues with ER intake, and met overworked nurses with limited backup and support. My family physician claims Alberta’s situation has never been worse. Our specialized doctors are swamped.

Now, I clearly see the need to both protect the erosion of our universal health care, and invest wisely in the system for others. Instead of diverting patient care dollars to privatization schemes which pad the profit margins of health care corporations, we should be looking at public solutions to improve the system, increase coverage, and tackle wait times

Without a vision of a healthy and productive society, Medicare would not exist today. At its inception in 1966, our medicare system had many opponents. Today it's a source of pride for Canadians, particularly when compared to the American for-profit system, which is sadly lacking on many fronts.

For example, my brother, a dual citizen living in Nebraska, suspected he was having a heart attack. For one trip to emergency (day patient only) and subsequent tests (which, thankfully, showed he had no heart problems), his insurance was billed approximately $8,000.00 USD for the event. Although his highly expensive insurance covered 80%, the charges were still astronomical. Imagine if, like many people, he didn’t have insurance.

Our healthcare system faces increasingly political pressure to limit costs and services, yet our society needs this investment. One day it may be you or a loved one in need. It happened to me, and I never, in a million years, thought It would. It can happen to you, too.

Let’s protect the vision of universal healthcare and prevent the erosion of services by the encroachment of for-profit services.

- Joanne