St. Stephen – “It’s a grim day to find out your mom has cancer,” said Britney Shaw of St. Stephen.
“And when you find out they can do surgery and there’s no surgeon…People are waiting to die,” said Shaw. “It’s a sad reality.”
Shaw and her fiancé Morgan Andrews of St. Stephen, are planning to get married May 27, at Ticklebelly Hill, in Oak Bay.
She wants her mother, Eileen, to be there.
On Feb. 1, Shaw’s mother received a diagnosis of esophageal cancer, and since then the family has been searching for a thoracic surgeon in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario, willing to give her the help she needs.
There is a shortage of thoracic surgeons in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton. The situation is the same in Nova Scotia.
Shaw took to social media, posting the family’s life and death dilemma, and asking for help. Various media stories brought the message of the thoracic surgeon shortage to light.
This week, Shaw said her mother received word a thoracic surgeon in Moncton, who has been on vacation, is now back in his office, and willing to look at her case.
She cautioned her mother’s referral to the Moncton surgeon doesn’t mean he is obligated to take her as a patient.
However, the referral has brought with it a giant ray of hope for the family, because of a test the doctor has requested before he sees Eileen Shaw.
The surgeon has referred Shaw’s mother, who lives in Saint John, to the oncology department at the Saint John Regional Hospital, and has requested a PET scan.
The PET scan is a lengthy procedure, which can identify the location and/or spread of cancerous cells in a person’s body, which will help a surgeon determine if a patient needs chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery – or a combination thereof.
“I’m just thankful the surgeon in Moncton is on the ball,” said Shaw, stating the doctor said he “wasn’t opening someone up if they don’t need surgery.”
That her mother might not need the surgery the family believed she did, to conquer her cancer, is heartening.
“I was fighting for a surgeon, and now we may just need chemo(therapy),” she said.
Shaw described the whole process of finding help for her mother “definitely frustrating”, and stated “it’s a government problem, not a doctor one.”
Thoracic surgeons are specialists who deal with structures of the chest, with the exception of the heart, including the esophagus, lungs, chest muscle and diaphragm muscle.
They treat diseases ranging from gastroesophageal reflux, to lung and esophageal cancers, remove benign tumours, perform chest reconstruction after major traumas, and handle lung transplants.
Shaw said the New Brunswick tax brackets of 15 per cent for doctors is too high, compared to provinces where it is lower, like Ontario, and stated doctors certainly would take those numbers into consideration when looking to set up or move a practice.
She said Health Minister Victor Boudreau contacted her and her mom Tuesday morning, through his assistant, stating “they want to help” Eileen Shaw.
“But I don’t think they are going to help her in a practical way,” said Shaw, saying she thinks the offer is the government’s way of trying to get out of the line of fire of criticisms leveled at it, once the surgeon shortage came to light.
Shaw said she didn’t hesitate to become her mother’s advocate, and hates to think what the outcome might have been if she hadn’t.
She now wonders how people in similar life and death situations, who are without the support of family and friends, fare in New Brunswick .
Shaw, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology, said to be with her mom in these past weeks, she quit her culinary course, which she undertook “to follow my passion.
“I was three quarters of the way through, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was doing stupid things. The chefs were wonderful and supportive,” said Shaw who is well known locally at farmers markets and crafts fairs with her Crème Cakes sweets.
Of quitting her course, Shaw stated, “I will never regret spending time with my mom.”
Shaw’s mother will likely have her PET scan next week.
Shaw said the family now has a plan of action. If her mom is not seen in a timely fashion by the surgeon in Moncton following the scan, “we move on to Toronto.”
“We have a surgeon we’ve been communicating with there.”
The trip out of province will mean at the very least, the expense of travel costs for the family.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health stated insured services under the Medical Payment Services Act conducted in a public hospital in Canada will be covered by Medicare “for New Brunswick patients who need or want to go out-of-province for care.”
Travel and accommodation fees are however not covered for out-of-province services.
Shaw said she believes her mother’s neighbours in the Father Eugene O’Leary seniors’ complex, in Saint John, have started raising some funds for her.
Now that there might be some hope in her mother’s situation, Shaw has come home to St. Stephen to prepare for her participation in the 4th annual Women’s Day Expo, at Dooly’s this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in St. Stephen. “I needed a break,” she said, a reluctant smile evident in her voice.
As for her mother’s attendance at the upcoming wedding in May, Shaw said it will depend on how things – surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, and recovery – overlap.
“What if it was a bad day for her?” she said, obviously concerned, but then laughed and said how tired or sick her mother felt, it wouldn’t prevent her from attending her daughter’s big day.
“Nothing’s going to stop Eileen Shaw!” her daughter proclaimed with a laugh.