Cancer patient baffled by continued debate over radiation unit and PET scanner

Cory Hurley
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Bill O’Reilly sits in his Massey Drive home.

Sitting back and listening to the debate over whether the new regional hospital in Corner Brook should include a radiation unit and a PET Scanner is frustrating and disappointing for Bill O’Reilly.

The 43-year-old family man from Massey Drive could not sit back any longer. He is baffled by the statistics and information used by politicians in their argument against it.

He believes, if the political will was there, an image in favour of the latest technology and equipment would be portrayed — especially because so many people, including medical professionals, are lobbying for it.

Statistics aside — and even as he says he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility — there is a whole human side that must be considered.

“I can’t imagine anybody has ever left their wife, two kids and family, and moved away for eight weeks, and had the financial obligations, and then say we don’t need it or we can’t justify it,” O’Reilly said.

The O’Reillys know the human side of cancer. In 2009, at just 39 years of age, he was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer. His wife Michelle was nearing her due date for their second child when they received the heartwrenching news.

After facing a four-month wait list in St. John’s for surgery, he travelled to Halifax for the procedure. In all, there were four trips to Nova Scotia — follow ups and a PET scan included — and O’Reilly was cancer free. The success rate of the surgery was 95 per cent, he was told.

In September 2012, it was back. Stage 4, double lung cancer. He spent eight straight weeks in St. John’s for radiation treatment. As he battles for his life, he continues back-and-forth to the east coast of the province for check ups. He was there just last week, and is scheduled back again in a couple of more weeks. Although unsure the exact amount he has spent on travelling for treatment, he says it “has to be” at least $10,000 in the four years.

O’Reilly is a private man, he is not looking for any pity, he says. He considers himself and his family to be very fortunate considering the circumstances. While he has been off work for the majority of the time since his latest diagnosis, he does get disability pay. He has availed of the province’s medical travel assistance program, has stayed at Daffodil Place, has been the benefactor of community support, and considers the health care he has received exemplary. He has a lot to be thankful for.

However, he sees it as an obligation to speak up. He’s not doing it for him, he clarifies. It’s for everybody in the province. The system needs change, and the new hospital must include a radiation centre and a PET scanner, he says. He considers the two as hand-in-hand.

“The idea that they are going to build a regional hospital and not put in a radiation unit and PET scanner, it is beyond comprehension,” he said.

O’Reilly wants to know how much money could the government save — and rightfully then re-invest into the capital or operational costs of a radiation unit or PET scanner — through its medical travel assistance program, if those services and equipment were in Corner Brook.

Although unable to find out specifically how much an individual PET scan costs to administer, he said he has learned it is well under the more than $3,000 he spent through travel, meals, accommodations, and lost wages.

“It seems incorrect that the patient is paying the bigger portion of the cost for a PET scan than the medical system is,” he said.

O’Reilly says the same argument can be made for radiation treatment. The procedure takes about 10 minutes a day. Again, he wants to know what the breakdown would be for the cost of that treatment to the medical system.

“The cost to the patient is enormous,” he said.

Each follow-up visit to St. John’s costs an additional $500-$600 for the overnight trip, he estimates.

“I think it would be overdramatic to say, if you live off the Avalon there is a different level of health care,” he said. “The reality of it is, if you live within St. John’s or an hour of St. John’s, your thought process is much different when it comes to your treatment. A lot of the financial burden is removed from it.”

O’Reilly said the second radiation unit and PET scanner in western Newfoundland would also reduce usage on the one in St. John’s — thus lessening some of its operational and maintenance expenses. He also said the PET scanner can be utilized the same as a CT scanner — creating less downtime and further reducing the burden on existing equipment.

“We’re arguing about technology that’s relevant right now for a hospital that’s 10 years away,” he said. “We should be looking at what equipment should go in there in 10 years. This should be commonplace.”

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Halifax, Nova Scotia Avalon Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Leaburn Knott
    July 02, 2014 - 22:50 RIP BILL We won't give up the fight!

  • Rod Hillyard
    May 12, 2014 - 21:38

    Stay strong Bill

  • Pam
    February 25, 2014 - 09:38

    When I first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, I never had a PET scan. I took my chemo treatments in Corner Brook with my oncologist stationed in St Johns. Then I moved out to St Johns, leaving my four year old with my Mother for radiation treatments. Though I was lucky to have family in the big city, my heart was broke not being with my son. When it was all over I married the love of my life and moved to Calgary. My cancer came back last January. Within a month I had had my first PET scan, the first of three over the last year. I had to do chemo and radiation, but this time I could take my son to school and be home again by lunch. When people say Do you miss home?I reply with all my heart, but had I stayed home I am afraid I would be dead. I am still battling cancer, more surgeries, chemo and radiation to come, but what ever it takes I will do. I only wish my fellow Newfoundlanders had the same opportunities that I have. There should not be a debate, Radiation Unit And a PET scan only makes common sense. God bless you Bill and your family.

  • sue
    February 23, 2014 - 12:19

    As a 2 time cancer survivor I find this situation beyond belief. Bad enough you have 4 mth wait for surgery but to have to travel across the province for radiation, scans is disgusting. I know how I felt and if any politician had to go through that regime they could appreciate the stress, fatigue and worry these patients go through not withstanding the financial concerns. With the increased number of cancer patients the extreme wait times it is obvious this province desperately needs a second radiation and PET scanner. For this side of the island. When will the politicians ever put the people of Newfoundland and Labrador first!

  • Bill Gillam
    February 23, 2014 - 11:03

    My parents are currently fighting a third battle with cancer in the past few years. Some people (politicians) just don't seem to care about the added cost to the patient(s). They had a $1800 hotel bill $600/flight(one way)just for the month of January. Not including meals or anything else.

  • Bill Gillam
    February 23, 2014 - 11:02

    My parents are currently fighting a third battle with cancer in the past few years. Some people (politicians) just don't seem to care about the added cost to the patient(s). They had a $1800 hotel bill $600/flight(one way)just for the month of January. Not including meals or anything else.

  • Ken burton
    February 22, 2014 - 17:31

    All valid points, I wonder would there be any debate , if it was one of the politicians lives that was involved here???? It's time for our tax dollars to be used for something that makes sense!!! After all if we don't have our health what do we have left. It is my opinion that health care should take priority over everything else!!!

  • Lisa lucas
    February 22, 2014 - 17:29

    I was just as frustrated by this , I would love to see what the reaction would be if the citizens on the Avalon had to travel to Western Newfoundland for Radiation. I had to go on stress leave from my teaching job so that I could stay with my father when he had to receive treatment in St John's, twice! I was very angry when I encountered other elderly cancer patients who were there alone because their family could not afford to stay with them. It's ridiculous that politicians don't blink an eye spending money on Muskrat a Falls studies, St. John's highways or a new convention Center parking area and all the other improvements to our Capital but the hell with us and our hospital with a much needed cancer wing on the a West Coast. We never did count.

  • westcoaster
    February 22, 2014 - 10:34

    Great article from someone who is dealing with these issues first hand, time for govt to step up to the plate and have another look at this. Prayers and positive vibes to Bill and his family as he fights this battle.

    • blue
      July 02, 2014 - 19:00

      Great article and great argument. Unfortunately Bill lost his battle to Cancer earlier this week.

  • Varrick Hammond
    February 22, 2014 - 10:04

    y put millions in a hospital were u can,t get to it and u still have to travel with in or out side the province to get the service u need to me it dose not make sence

  • Crazy
    February 22, 2014 - 07:25

    Sir no disrespect to you, But we need our money for the paper mill, we also need money for Muskrat Falls, in order to build Danny Land, Sir we are planning on running a 300 million dollars power line in Labrador, So I hope you understand where we are coming from, you just have to wait your turn... like the rest.