Shortage of chemo-trained nurses forces patients off island

A temporary lack of nurses trained in chemotherapy is making life harder for Haida Gwaii cancer patients.

A temporary lack of nurses trained in chemotherapy is making life harder for Haida Gwaii cancer patients.

Speaking from Prince Rupert, where he met other islanders getting chemo treatments they had expected on island, Dutes Dutheil said the trips bring extra costs and worries about falling behind schedule.

“I think it’s a real bummer,” he said. “It’s bad enough we’ve got cancer now we’ve got to go and pay more money out of our pocket.”

“And it’s something that was done at last-minute.”

A spokesperson for Northern Health said it was unable to arrange an interview by press time, but would follow-up next week.

Dutheil said it was about a week before his latest chemotherapy treatment that he got a call saying the nurse who was supposed to administer it was unavailable, and it would be two weeks before another one could come.

“I find it a little hard to believe that they can’t find someone they can send here temporarily,” he said.

Dutheil said he and another islanders are eligible for free ferry service for medical treatments, but they still have to pay for hotels and meals while off island.

Given the added expense, Dutheil said he’s concerned some people might forgo chemo altogether.

“We’re just lucky that the weather’s good so we could make it,” he added, noting that he is scheduled to have a dozen chemotherapy drips before getting a CT scan and specialist blood work in Vancouver appointments that had to be booked well in advance.

In fact, when he first received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Dutheil started chemotherapy in North Vancouver. He only returned home after learning that doctors at the Queen Charlotte hospital had successfully organized a local chemotherapy program.

“It’s not the hospital’s fault,” he said.

“But I think Northern Health should step up to the plate a bit.”

As it happens, Dutheil spoke to the Observer on his 70th birthday.

The owner of the Crystal Cabin gallery and an islands fixture for decades, Dutheil rang in his 70th in Tlell a few days before with a live band, Out of the Blue, some incredible birthday cakes, and friends from all corners of Haida Gwaii.

While a lot of people with cancer shy away from talking about it, Dutheil said he’s been happy to speak out.

“I’ve been trying to make things better for people after me, to get better services for us,” he said.

“It affects the whole islands.”