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Rally calls for full funding of breast cancer program

HSN looking to curtail spending on program that allows women to quickly consult with surgeons

Valerie Zuliani knows too well what it's like to lose someone you love to breast cancer.

She lost her mother to the disease, and her sister, Janice Foligno, was just 47 years old when she passed away after a battle with breast cancer. Zuliani was among dozens of people protesting Monday on Paris Street near Health Sciences North.

They were there to pressure HSN not to cut a program that allows women with problematic test results to consult a surgeon soon after they get their test results.

The hospital has already backed away from ending the program, and now proposes cutting service levels in half from nearly 2,000 patients annually to around 1,000, limiting assessments to only those patients with abnormal screenings. 

The decision makes no sense to Zuliani.

“A program like this, that is the envy of a lot of other places, why would you cut it?” she said. “What does that mean for someone who's going through that kind of anxiety of being told that there's possibly something wrong at the time of your mammogram?

“I mean you want to immediately see somebody … If you have to wait longer and have to go through another type of screening, it just causes more anxiety. It can make it worse – anxiety, stress makes things worse for the amount of money that they're talking about saving.”

The money saved would have been $270,000 if the full program had been eliminated, but the recent backtracking has likely reduced that amount to $170,000 or so. Breast cancer survivor and former Sudbury NDP MPP Sharon Murdock says they want to keep pushing until the entire program is saved.

“We think that if money is the issue as they claim it is, then we should be working together to find a financing solution,” Murdock said at Monday's rally. “But they haven't even made a move to try and talk with us to understand the issue.”

The issue is ensuring women possibly facing breast cancer understand what is happening with them as soon as possible, so treatment options can begin.

“That delay (starting treatment) was what we got away from a number of years ago,” Murdock said. “Now they're putting us back to where we were.

“I'm a double mastectomy (survivor) and I know from the moment you know that you have a questionable growth in your breast, you're scared. Your family is equally scared because they're afraid they're going to lose you. 

“There couldn't have been any thought given to the ramifications of making this decision. So we want them to put it back to a hundred per cent.”

Registered nurse Anne Matte said she's grateful HSN has at least restored part of the program.

“That's so amazing,” she said. “They're on the right track. They just have to keep going and we'll just be there to keep reminding them a hundred per cent is what we need.”

Matte said they are “more than willing” to work with the hospital to find ways to make it work in the budget.  It took them four weeks of raising the alarm to get HSN to move this far, she said, and the fight will continue.

They are writing to the North East LHIN, Premier Doug Ford, have the support of Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas and others.

“We are tenacious,” Matte said. “We are determined.

“I want to thank everybody who came (to Monday's rally) and thank you to all the families -- we can make a difference.”


Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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