Rhoda DeLuca spent two months living in this travel trailer while undergoing radiation therapy in Kelowna. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

Rhoda DeLuca spent two months living in this travel trailer while undergoing radiation therapy in Kelowna. Kimberley Vlasic/The Free Press

‘I practically begged’: Kootenay woman with breast cancer denied referral to Calgary

Breast cancer patient left to fight disease alone after being denied referral to Calgary

For two months, Rhoda DeLuca and her 12-year-old son lived out of a travel trailer in a Kelowna campground while she received radiation therapy to treat stage two breast cancer.

The Hosmer woman had only recently undergone a double mastectomy to remove two malignant tumours from her right breast followed by reconstruction surgery.

However, with no friends or family in Kelowna and a husband who worked away in Fort McMurray, DeLuca was left to fend for herself, driving to and from the hospital, washing their clothes at a laundromat and trying to keep her son Tanner entertained over the summer, while fighting off the side effects of radiation therapy.

Six hundred kilometres away, in Calgary, Alta., was Rhoda’s family who she so desperately needed during that difficult time.

The 48-year-old is now in remission and although it’s been nearly a year since her last appointment in Kelowna, her eyes still fill with tears when she recalls the ordeal.

Rhoda is one of a growing number of people across the Kootenays being denied access to Alberta health services despite their proximity to the B.C.-Alberta border. Hosmer is just a three hour drive away compared to the seven-hour trek to the Okanagan.

READ MORE: Elk Valley patients running into Alberta healthcare roadblocks

“I actually practically begged, I was crying because they wanted me to go to Kelowna and not to Calgary,” she said.

“I said that this is now the fight of my life and I have family that I can actually stay with in Calgary, and my husband can stay with them there… ‘Absolutely no, absolutely not’ is what I was told and I said ‘why, what is this problem?’”

According to Rhoda’s surgeon in Cranbrook, Alberta was no longer taking B.C. patients because facilities were “overrun” with them.

“I had to make use of the resources within British Columbia,” she said.

So began the hardest two years of Rhoda’s life as she travelled to and from Kelowna, eight hours’ away through hazardous mountain passes, which meant long stints away from her home and loved ones.

“I didn’t see my son for 16 days when I had my double mastectomy because he had to stay here in Fernie, we had no one to drive him back and forth,” she said.

“It’s not just going back and forth, it’s the emotion of it all too and what you’re put through without having family around you, and especially being from a First Nations culture where your family is everything.

“I can’t imagine what some of these people have to go through and I’m just glad that I am through it, and I did what I had to do. For the most part, I was pretty positive about it and tried to make a positive situation out of it for my husband and my son.

“It’s a tough thing all round for everybody. I thought we were all just Canadian, I didn’t think there was a border issue until I got cancer.”

To add insult to injury, Rhoda learned a Cranbrook hospital staffer diagnosed with stage one breast cancer was able to receive treatment in Calgary.

She is also being audited by Revenue Services Canada after claiming some of the travel expenses incurred during her illness.

Of the $20,000 the family spent on hotels, gas, eating out and parking, they got $3500 back through income tax.

Fortunately Rhoda kept detailed records and receipts, but still has to get letters of support from her medical team.

“It’s like a double edged sword,” she said bitterly.

“You cry, you whine, you beg you want to go to Calgary, they’re like ‘no, forget it’ so you go to Kelowna and then the Government comes after you to prove that your boobs were cut off and that you had to go there for the treatment.”

More patients are finding themselves in Rhoda’s situation and referred to Kelowna or Vancouver instead of Calgary.

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka’s office has been inundated with constituent concerns and he is urging more people to come forward with their testimonials as he works with the Ministry of Health to resolve the problem.

As of press time Tuesday, the Ministry had not yet responded to The Free Press’ request for comment.

Rhoda fears that if a solution is not found soon, people will start to take desperate measures.

“If I had just gone across into Alberta and said I wasn’t feeling good, can you run some tests and see what’s going on they would have found my breast cancer, I could have gone to Calgary,” she said.

“That’s what’s going to happen; people are going to start trying to figure out the system and then messing with it. I’m a pretty honest person, I wouldn’t do that, but now that I look at it and see what these people are going through and knowing what I went through, it’s almost becoming any man for himself and that’s not fair.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley RCMP on scene at what appeared to be a fatal bike accident. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Cyclist dies suddenly while riding in Langley

Police were on scene of the fatal incident

Kim Snow was chosen as the H.D. Stafford Good Citizen of the Year winner by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. (Langley Advance Times file)
Local angel chosen for top Langley Chamber of Commerce community award

The H.D. Stafford Good Citizen of the Year Award was presented this week

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

The family owned and operated Twilight Drive-In, located in Aldergrove, has been in operation since 2005. (Aldergrove Star files)
COVID restrictions curtain Twilight Drive-In for two weeks

Owner Jay Daulat is hopeful the Aldergrove business can re-open after Dec. 7

What COVID-19 looks like under the microscope. (CDC)
LETTER: Langley senior pens poem of encouragement during dark times

Less than a year ago, few had ever heard of the coronavirus. Now it dominates our lives

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Despite rumours, Surrey RCMP say they are not issuing tickets to people if they are driving in a vehicle with others from a different household. (File photo)
COVID-19 tickets: No, RCMP aren’t checking vehicle occupancies, restaurant tables

Enforcement about education, not punishment says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Gold medallists in the ice dance, free dance figure skating Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Olympic champions Virtue, Moir and Tewksbury among 114 Order of Canada inductees

Moir and Virtue catapulted to national stardom with their gold-medal performances at the Winter Olympics in 2018

Shoppers line up in front of a shop on Montreal’s Saint-Catherine Street in search of Black Friday deals in Montreal, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Black Friday shopping in a pandemic: COVID-19 closes some stores, sales move online

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

Most Read