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I am sharing my mother’s story, on her behalf. She passed away two years ago, at the age of 78, after battling lymphoma for over 2 years. She had been hospitalized for most of the period of a year and a half, demonstrating her incredible strength. The care that she received in the hospital was exceptional, and we appreciate everything that her doctors, nurses & support staff in the oncology department did for her. However, my mom’s battle with cancer did not have to end this way. A few weeks before she died, she said to me, “I should have argued more with (her family doctor); I should have made him listen to me”. How heartbreaking that my mother was blaming herself for the negligence of her family doctor. She had been regularly going to see him with complaints of stomach pains for over 6 months prior to her diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. Unfortunately, she had not shared the stories with us of how he had treated her until after her diagnosis because she had been so used to him brushing her off whenever she met with him regarding any kind of symptoms, that it had simply become normal for her. Although she disliked how he dealt with her, she had never been able to find another doctor in her small town. My father was also his patient, and she sometimes took my father with her to her appointments; she explained to us that she did so because she felt like her doctor only listened to her if my father was present. Thus, for 6 months, this doctor had continuously told my mother that her symptoms were psychosomatic, that they were related to stress, etc. He never sent her for tests and he never probed further into her symptoms despite her despite her deteriorating health and her growing complaints of pain. He’d simply tell her to take Tylenol or antacid. Finally, my mother was so ill that she could no longer go on as she was. In desparation, she went to another doctor in the neighbouring province, where she was immediately tested and diagnosed with her cancer. She was then transferred to a hospital in a larger city near her town, where she finally began receiving the care that she desperately needed. However, it was too late at this point. Although lymphoma is a cancer that has a promising prognosis when diagnosed early and treated with proper medication, my mom is someone who has always had an abnormally low white blood cell count. Therefore, given that she was stage 4 by the time she was diagnosed and therefore needed aggressive treatment, the usual chemotherapy treatment was too aggressive for her. That is, it would have killed off too many white blood cells and therefore would have been fatal in itself. This meant that her oncologist needed to give her lower doses at longer intervals. It also meant, as I noted before, that she need to stay in the hospital for most of the year and a half she was there; she was only home for a total of approximately 3 weeks (not continuous) in that whole time because she needed continuous care. Although the chemotherapy treatments prolonged her life, they were not strong enough to treat her. Her oncologist, who told her that he stayed up at night trying to figure out how he could successfully treat her, had tried to have her admitted to an experimental treatment project but she was refused because of her abnormally low blood cell count. My mom held on for as long as she could; she accepted every treatment available to her, until finally the only treatment left to try had led her to be so physically ill and caused such difficult mental health symptoms (ex. paranoia, confusion, etc.) that she chose to go off the treatment. Words cannot convey how angry we are that my mother’s family doctor had been so negligent. Today, my mother would likely be with us if only he had taken her seriously when she first started having symptoms. Even when she was being treated in the hospital, the oncology team noted that they had a hard time receiving information from him. My older sister and I had talked about making a complaint against him, but unfortunately my father was not in agreement. Therefore, we simply live with our anger as we continue to miss our mom every single day.
When I heard Helen Kinsella speak on CBC today regarding this website, I knew that I needed to speak out on behalf of my mom. My mother had the clear impression that the horrible treatment that she received from this doctor was due to the fact that she was a woman. The fact that he told her that it her symptoms were likely psychosomatic serves to reinforce her theory; particularly that he has never once said something like that to my father and only seemed to listen to her when my father was present. Thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to share my mom’s story in the hopes that it makes a difference, and thank you for having created such an important project. I wish you the best of luck and will spread the word regarding your project with my friends and family.