Mother of two Carmen Bischel waited almost seven months to be diagnosed and start treatment for breast cancer during the pandemic.
“Waiting so long to get an appointment to see your GP, just waiting for assessment, just waiting in the cue, the lines have become so long with surgeries being cancelled, and there’s such an incredible back log,” said Bischel.
As a registered nurse, Bischel understood the severity of her situation after her first radiology report and started making calls.
“I was worried all along whether I would get my surgery on time, or whether the tumour would grow too much to the point…and it did. It turned into something called inflammatory cancer waiting so long, and, again, that has a much poorer prognosis.”
Bischel first realized something may be wrong in January 2021, but wasn’t able to receive diagnosis until July 2021.
Queen’s University oncologist Dr. Timothy Hanna says over the pandemic cancer diagnoses have dropped dramatically.
“The first wave of the pandemic we saw a 30-per cent drop in cancer diagnoses and a 60-per cent drop in cancer surgery in Ontario, and we’ve seen similar drops in cancer diagnoses in other parts of Canada. And the delays in diagnosis are perhaps the most concerning because of the number of people affected,” said Hanna.
A study using Dr. Hanna’s data shows pandemic associated delays in Canada could result in about 20,000 additional deaths from cancer over the next decade.
Bischel says the delays she experienced have impacted the severity of the cancer treatment she’s had to undergo.
“It possibly could have been just a lumpectomy, where as, it became a double mastectomy, radical with all lymph nodes taken out. I had four months of chemo, and I’ve just finished a month of radiation,” said Bischel.
“Unfortunately, when it came time for surgery, the vast majority of my lymph nodes were cancerous, and that just comes along with time.”
Helping Bischel through that difficult time is Denise Lewis.
Lewis is a volunteer with the Nanny Angel Network [now Nankind], an organization that provides child care for mothers with cancer.
The network is currently looking for volunteers in the Kingston region to provide support.
“It’s enough to get a diagnosis of cancer in the best of times. Juggling a family, juggling, you know, getting to appointments, recovering from appointments,” said Lewis. “I honestly can’t even imagine how it is for a family to go through.”
Bischel has finished radiation and says only now can she breathe, after an unimaginable year of fighting cancer during a global pandemic.