Shawn Christie thought his cancer was in remission.
Four months ago his doctors told the well-known entrepreneur it had returned, albeit much less aggressively. Two weeks ago, with friends and family nearby, he underwent surgery on his lymph nodes.
On Thursday he praised the process, the keynote speaker as Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre launched an ambitious $5.9 million Exceptional Cancer Care campaign, the community’s share of a planned $32 million investment in updated equipment at the hospital.
“We don’t need to make this a world-class facility,” an emotional Christie told the crowd. “It already is, but we can make it better.”
Twenty years ago, cancer treatment in Thunder Bay often meant abandoning the support network at home for the unfamiliarity of larger centres like Toronto or Winnipeg
Christie said he can’t imagine what his ordeal might have been like had he been forced to leave his family behind while fighting to save his life.
“If you had to leave here and go somewhere else, and not have the support of your family and the support of care you get at this centre, I really don’t know how many people could do that and come out of it like I have,” Christie said.
The campaign began quietly a year ago, and to date has raised $3 million of the $5.9 million goal, through donations from businesses and individuals in the community.
On Thursday a representative from Fort William Rotary Club announced the organization plans to donate $500,000 over the next five years, a portion of the proceeds from their annual house lottery raffle.
Paul Fitzpatrick has taken on the task of heading the campaign, his job to help uncover the remaining $2.9 million over the next 12 months.
He’s got more than enough motivation to do so.
More than two decades ago, his mother-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia. Her treatment forced her to leave Thunder Bay for weeks at a time.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” he said.
In this day and age, it’s also unnecessary, he added.
But the ability to keep cancer patients close to home comes with a cost.
“Equipment is constantly changing and evolving. Treatment options aren’t the same as they were years ago,” he said.
The money raised will service three critical areas of care: diagnosis, treatment and research.
Equipment on the wish list includes a CT simulator for radiations therapy planning and diagnosis, linear accelerators for radiation therapy, IV pumps and chairs for chemotherapy treatment throughout the region and a cyclotron, which will allow the hospital to create its own medical imaging isotopes.
Joanne Lacourciere, the program director at Regional Cancer Care, said the plan centres around patient feedback and their desire for quicker diagnosis, better treatment, to keep them close to home and to make them a partner in their cancer journey.
“We really tried to build a plan around those priorities. And a lot of our ability to try to achieve those abilities is related to investments in equipment.”
Donations can be made online at www.healthsciencesfoundation.ca/ECC, by phone at 345-4673 or in person at the hospital. They can also be mailed to 980 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, Ont., P7B 6V4.
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