‘Am I going to find out too late?’: Regina woman nearly a year into wait for breast cancer diagnosis

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post Nadine Baker who has been waitlisted for diagnostic care for nearly a year despite experiencing breast cancer symptoms, speaks about their experiences to the press inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Monday, January 22, 2024 in Regina.

by Angela Amato

Regina Leader-Post

Nadine Baker says she has been waiting since March 2023 to get a diagnostic mammogram to determine whether or not she has breast cancer.

“It’s a constant worry,” said Baker at a news conference held Monday morning by NDP leader Carla Beck and health care critic Vicki Mowat. “I saw my mom go through breast cancer, so I know what the picture looks like. And the sooner you get diagnosed, the better the outcome.”

Baker goes for regular screenings, but when she expressed concerns of changes in her breast health, she was advised to get a diagnostic mammogram due to her family history.

It’s been 45 weeks since that advice and Baker still doesn’t have an appointment and doesn’t have any idea of when she’ll get one.

Baker said that the diagnostics radiograph office that she was referred to got in contact on Jan. 5, but only to notify her that they had received the referral and ask if she was willing to travel to Calgary for testing.

“The health care system right now, it’s broken so badly,” Baker told reporters. “How many are going to find out too late? Am I going to find out too late?”

Diagnostic mammograms are more intense and complex than what is offered through the breast cancer screening program.

In November, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a $3.5-million initiative, sending high-risk patients to Clearpoint, a private clinic in Calgary, to receive diagnostic services like biopsies and mammograms more quickly than wait lists in Saskatchewan are currently moving.

“Time is of the essence,” said Health Minister Everett Hindley at a press conference when the plan was announced.

Clearpoint is charging the Saskatchewan government a flat rate of $2,000 per patient, while private clinics in Ontario and British Columbia charge between $140 and $430 for mammograms, said a statement from the Saskatchewan NDP following Monday’s press conference.

Last month, Hindley said the target wait time for breast cancer screenings is three weeks, but most women are waiting an average of 10 weeks.

But Baker is among many others who are coming up on one year of waiting to get crucial answers about their health.

“The difference between 10 weeks and 10 months can mean life and death,” said Mowat on Monday, adding that other provinces like Ontario are expanding screenings for breast cancer and lowering the minimum age for self-referred screenings.

“Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death for Saskatchewan women,” said Beck. “It is absolutely inexcusable that Scott Moe and the Sask. Party have let so many women in this province fall through the cracks without the care they deserve.”

Beck and Mowat said this is not a post-pandemic issue, and since Moe became premier in 2018, the number of doctors who can perform surgeries for breast cancer patients in the province has gone down from seven to three.

“Without adequate staffing, the number of mammograms performed each year has been trending downward since well before the pandemic,” said Mowat, adding the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency reported 10,000 fewer mammograms last year compared to 2017.

“This is a Band-Aid solution and I don’t think we’ll get a long term fix out of this tired and out of touch government the way that Moe and his ministers make excuse after excuse,” said Mowat.

Baker said she watched her mother lay in bed on chemo and radiation for many months while she battled breast cancer, a fight that resulted in the loss of her left breast and all of her lymph nodes on that side.

“I do know how devastating it can be to an entire family, how it takes a mother away,” said Baker. “Not having it taken care of immediately and as quick as possible can mean that you’re not there after the fact. I don’t want to wait and sit around for many more months worrying about it.”

— With files from Larissa Kurz.