Cancer Awareness Month: Wingham unit provides close-to-home care, saving patients time and money
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
When locals are going through what is, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult stretches of their lives, there is a place for them to go, full of people who want to help, ease their pain and make their lives a bit brighter.
April is Cancer Awareness Month and Huron County is lucky to play host to its own oncology unit in Wingham. The Wingham Satellite Oncology Program is part of the London Regional Cancer Program, providing chemotherapy for patients in Huron, Bruce and Perth Counties.
The site runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday at the Wingham and District Hospital, which is one half of the Listowel Wingham Hospitals Alliance.
The site boasts a five-nurse complement. All oncology registered nurses are specially-trained, proactive guides to help cancer patients navigate the complex maze of cancer treatment and care, according to Cancer Care Ontario. Two of them - Laurie Bell and Justine MacDonald - took some time to chat with The Citizen about their work at the unit and all that it means to the community and those who utilize its services.
Bell has been a nurse since 1983, working in the local oncology unit for the last 12 years, while MacDonald has been a nurse for the last decade, spending seven years in the unit.
“I enjoy my job,” says Bell, who says that patients are always so grateful to have this level of cancer care so close to home. There’s the convenience of it, of course, but she adds that really it’s about time for most people. Saving people a drive to Kitchener, London or Owen Sound saves them time and money, and the time they save can be better spent with their families and loved ones.
MacDonald echoes Bell’s sentiments, saying she’s happy to be able to help patients at such a difficult time in their lives and to watch people get better.
A typical day in the unit begins when the nurses arrive and they prepare the space for the patients of the day. Bell and MacDonald say there is a lot of communication with London in regards to a patient list for the day and the necessary medication. They then work with the nearby pharmacy for the medication they need for the day. The majority of chemotherapy agents and cancer medications can be administered at the site, but there are rare instances in which treatment must be sought in London.
On an average day they’ll see seven or eight patients. The unit is equipped with eight chairs and a room with a stretcher, if someone needs to receive treatment while laying down or will be there for a lengthy amount of time (treatment times range from one to eight hours, depending on the patient).
Bell says the unit is set up to convey a friendly atmosphere, with the chairs facing one another to allow for conversation, with televisions and WiFi for entertainment and chairs for spouses or loved ones to come and keep patients company as they’re treated.
In addition to the nurses getting to know their patients over time, it’s not unusual for patients to get to know one another, with some of them being on similar treatment schedules.
There is a screening process to assess symptoms, progress and any changes that have occurred since their last treatment. This not only informs the nurses for the day, they say, but it also provides historical data that can be consulted on a longer timeline to see how patients are faring with their treatment over months and years.
After the assessment, the nurses take a patient’s vitals and a blood sample and, once everything is looking good and cleared to go, treatment can move forward. That’s when the nurses will communicate with the pharmacist and get the necessary medication ready for the treatment ahead.
In addition to the very capable nurses, if necessary, there is a dedicated doctor available to the unit every day, in addition to other medical professionals from throughout the hospital.
Both Bell and MacDonald say they find their work in the unit very fulfilling, though it can be challenging at times. As some patients will improve and eventually leave the unit cancer-free, others are not so lucky and will pass away when cancer gets the better of them. It is a challenging aspect of the job, but one that comes with the territory. But, to see people have their pain relieved and conditions improved can be very rewarding, the pair agrees.
The Elizabeth (Betty Zinn) Hlavach Memorial Oncology Clinic is located just to the right upon crossing through the main entrance to the Wingham and District Hospital. For more information, visit lwha.ca/care/oncology/ or call the unit at 519-357-3711, extension 5220.