Build a cancer lodge in the Yukon and patients will come — and be healthier as a result, says NDP leader Todd Hardy.
The 49-year-old Yukoner is currently undergoing treatments in Vancouver for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and a stem-cell transplant that he received in late November.
After spending almost 90 days confined to his bed, Hardy was released from hospital on Christmas Eve.
Three days later — after enjoying Christmas dinner at a Yukoner’s place in Vancouver — Hardy checked in to the Jean C. Barber cancer lodge.
The Barber lodge is about a block from Vancouver’s St. Paul’s hospital, where Hardy must go every second day for chemotherapy treatments and for doctors to monitor complications that can arise from the transplant.
He is able to walk to the hospital for the three-hour-long procedures and then return to live in the more uplifting environs of the lodge, staffed by volunteers.
While Hardy has been responding well to treatment, he is sure he’d be doing better if a cancer lodge existed in the Yukon that allowed him to have treatments here.
“I believe there’s a tremendous benefit by having us working towards trying to set up treatment that allows people to be closer to that network of support,” said Hardy in an interview Thursday.
“People seem to respond better and recover faster when they’re closer to home, family and friends.”
Hardy is pushing for Yukon leaders to examine building a cancer lodge in the territory that would allow Yukoners fighting cancer to remain closer to home.
He has seen the positive effects being at home can have on someone fighting the disease.
Hardy bravely returned to Whitehorse during the October election for the final 10 days of the campaign, despite being in the middle of extremely strong chemotherapy treatments for the leukemia that doctors had discovered in August.
The fit, six-foot-tall former carpenter looked skinny, almost feeble, when he walked off the plane at Whitehorse International Airport.
But being back at home had him feeling “three times better” in less than a week, he said.
“My interest in life returned. Getting a person out of the hospital, getting them back closer to their family and support speeds up recovery.”
In an earlier interview, Hardy described his hospital room as his “prison.”
And on Christmas Eve, he was still in that prison, since returning to hospital from Whitehorse after the election.
Doctors came to his room to explain that more leukemia patients were arriving at the hospital, and that they needed his bed.
How much time would he need to get ready to leave, they asked?
“I said ‘Give me 90 seconds and I’ll be out of here,’” said Hardy, chuckling.
He is much more positive now that he’s staying at the cancer lodge, he said.
Recently, British Columbia built a cancer lodge in Kelowna beside the city’s regional cancer hospital facility.
The lodge allows people receiving treatments at the hospital to remain nearby, but escape the demoralizing moods the institutions can create.
It has also reaped significant savings for the province’s health-care system, as patients from the BC Interior, who once were forced to relocate to Vancouver during cancer treatments, are now able to remain closer to home, said Hardy.
“Instead of people constantly having to come to Vancouver, relocating, they’re able to get the treatment in that region, and the doctors will go out there.
Kelowna’s experience should be looked at as a model for an idea to explore in the Yukon, he said.
Cancer treatment in the territory often consists of a medevac flight out to a facility in Alberta or British Columbia.
And more and more people seem to be succumbing to the disease in the territory, said Hardy.
The expense of building a lodge could largely be offset from costs saved on medevac flights and relocation, he said.
“We spend a substantial amount of money, I suspect, on travel out.”
Yukon Health and Social Services officials were unable to provide details on how many Yukoners are medevaced out of the territory each year for cancer treatments.
The Yukon currently cannot provide radiation and certain chemotherapies, said department spokesperson Pat Living.
And the territory’s population is so small that it doesn’t warrant a resident oncologist, she added.
Hardy succumbed to graft versus host disease following the stem cell transplant.
The disease sees a host’s immune system fight the new, healthy cells injected into the bloodstream.
Complications from the disease haven’t been too severe, however, and he has successfully fought through the first 30 days since the operation, said Hardy.
“The next milestone is 100 days. I’m close to day 50 right now, and things are going well,” he said.
After 100 days following the transplant, Hardy’s chances of survival drastically increase.
And, he will probably be allowed to come home.
“The doctor said to me, ‘I don’t like to talk about this Christmas; I want to talk to you about your next Christmas,’” he said, hopefully.