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A bargain for Yukon cancer patients

In a quiet copse of trees and bushes one block from Vancouver’s General Hospital is a very busy low-slung building.

In a quiet copse of trees and bushes one block from Vancouver’s General Hospital is a very busy low-slung building.

For Yukoners seeking cancer treatment in Vancouver, this is often their accommodation of choice.

It is a short walk from some of Vancouver’s more beautiful historic homes, gardens and leafy streets, a block from Broadway’s full transit access, eateries and shops, and kitty corner to the British Columbia Cancer Agency, a renowned North American cancer treatment and research centre.

In 2005, more than 300,000 patients used the BCCA’s conventional and non-conventional treatments for up to 57 cancer types.

“From February 2005, to January 31, 2006, 128 Yukoners have stayed at the Jean C Barber Lodge,” and 90 over the subsequent seven months, said Scott Kent, Yukon regional manager of the Canadian Cancer Society, BC/Yukon Division.

The lodge accepted “3,000-plus patient admissions last year,” confirmed staff nurse Linda Andrews.

The facility has 62 beds and sister lodges in Victoria and Kelowna.

“Cancer patients and family members may use it and, space allowing, we will accommodate patients with other medical conditions,” said Andrews.

Yet, this five-star facility charging only hostel rates is unknown to many eligible Yukoners.

The daily fee is stunningly low.

“Self-pay BC (and Yukon) cancer patients pay $36 and their guests $52.50,” said Andrews, for a high-quality, twin-share room, three dining room meals with mountain views, two “teas,” and round-the-clock snacks in the general recreation room where a sports TV, pool, internet hook-up, newspapers and even sewing equipment are provided.

Décor is elegant and carpeted halls are enlivened by plants.

“Frankly, it was extravagance for a pittance,” said Dick Person, of Teslin, who spent a month at the lodge, walking half a block to his treatments.

“It provided me with the sense of temporary home when I was so ill and needed it. There is absolutely nothing to equal its value in the private sector.”

Person went on to describe a guided meditation room with music centres, a gong and waterfall, a walk-in tub, a small library and “various sorts of lounge areas where you could relax and fill in time.”

Umbrellas and wheelchairs by the door, a soothing fish tank, a piano and fireplace and a busy message board maintained by solicitous volunteer receptionists illustrates attention to detail.

When using their territorial medical travel allowance, Yukon patients’ costs are, essentially, covered.

“The new rate for patients presently is $75 per day for up to 90 days, or up to 365 days with director’s authorization,” said Pat Living, communications officer for Yukon Health and Social Services. “Ours is probably the best in Canada.”

The Jean C. Barber is a serious medical support facility.

Its residents flow back and forth to the harsh realities of the BC Cancer Agency, skin care and eye care centres, and other medical buildings.

While “patients must be able to manage their personal care or be accompanied” in order to use the lodge, said Andrews “the lodge liaises daily with the Vancouver Cancer Centre, Vancouver General Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Unit” and other acute care centres in the city.

Nurses supervise residents’ appointments, medications and personal needs.

Andrews listed the fabulous freebies used to aid healing as “professionally led complementary therapies such as relaxation and stress reduction, energy healing and therapeutic touch, music and art therapy; outings in the CCS van; free transportation services of CCS and Freemason volunteer drivers; access to free wigs, head gear, wig stylist and breast prosthesis” and other sessions designed to boost morale and health.

In “anonymous feedback” sought by her office “over 98 per cent of residents and family members report the lodge ‘exceeds their expectations,’” she said.

When I visited the lodge, residents returning from the Van Dusen Gardens got into a comic melee with a woman arriving with two black labs for residents to walk. And optional trips to a small sea port or the Vancouver Aquarium were being circulated for sign-ups in the recreation room.

Underneath the lodge sits the Freemasons’ shining fleet of ‘daffodil’ cars devoted to cancer patients.

“Phone and they will come,” advised a lodge patient. Donald Kirkpatrick, Vancouver co-ordinator explained: “We have grown from three cars to 17 in 18 years.

“We transport 72 patients to appointments per day, in two shifts. The Freemason’s own the cars and drive free of charge.”

Person was transported to and from the Vancouver airport.

“The Mason’s car service saved me energy and money, and anxiety too, when I needed it most,” he said.

“My driver was an Air Canada pilot,” he added.

Stays vary from patients awaiting initial diagnosis, to some on a fourth short visit, or those remaining three months for marrow or organ transplant recovery.

Many are seriously ill, though ambulatory, while others are en route to recovery.

“It was a real eye-opener on more serious or painful problems than my own,” recalled Person.

“Sharing thoughts, sharing our problems — an empathy and a camaraderie developed with other people. It’s a kind of fraternity.”

The Canadian Cancer Society named the lodge for Jean C. Barber wife of retired forestry executive and philanthropist, Ike Barber who, together, gave the largest single donation of $1 million to cancer in 2005.

I asked Kent whether Yukon donations contributed to such lodges.

“Dollars raised in the Yukon support the five priority areas of the Cancer Society, prevention, advocacy, research, information and support.

“The lodges are part of our practical support program,” so that’s a ‘yes.’”

Based on current incidence, the Canadian Cancer Society now estimates that 38 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men will develop cancer in their lifetime.

Information about Barber lodge is available on-line or at the Cancer Society office, open lunch hours daily on Wood Street, Whitehorse, or call 668 6440.