Yarmouth resident Derek Lesser, a founder of the Western Nova Scotia Cancer Support Network Facebook group, said Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill notified him that a meeting with Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey has been set up for Thursday, Aug. 31.
“He’s interested in meeting with us,” said Lesser, who said the minister will meet with himself, Yarmouth town councillor Sandy Dennis (herself battling cancer) and members of the Yarmouth Hospital Foundation.
“I think he’s just looking for what the ask is and what we’re looking to do,” Lesser said. “We hadn’t even requested a meeting with the health minister so that was quite positive news.”
The Facebook group – which has surpassed 20,000 members – had also circulated petitions in Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby counties seeking public support for the push to have cancer radiation services located in Yarmouth, and also for the province to cover cancer medications that are taken orally.
The group is collecting those petitions. As of 4 p.m. on Aug. 25, of the petitions collected so far, they had 5,506 signatures, with many more petitions still to be picked up.
Lesser said the petitions had been available to the public in about 110 locations. The petition's pages of signatures will be presented to the minister.
Lesser said he’s pleased with how the initiative has been going. When he first launched the group, he had hoped to get “a couple hundred people on board.” His expectations were well exceeded.
While there are people eager to fundraise, Lesser said until or unless government commits to locating a linear accelerator at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital (the machine required for radiation services), any fundraising initiatives can’t be pursued. And when/if they are, they would be led by the hospital foundation, he said.
“The hospital foundation has said ‘that’s what we do. We’ll look after the fundraising, we would just want your people to participate in some of it,’” Lesser said, noting the foundation has fundraising expertise and there would be an expectation that the region would have to cover some of the required expense.
“The foundation is very keen on raising the money and would like to do it, but they’ve said you don’t really want to get into a position where you’re collecting money now,” said Lesser. “They don’t want money just sitting there if it doesn’t get approved.”
Asked what message Lesser hopes his group can get across to the health minister, he said, “I think the big thing is there are way more people than I ever thought, or anybody ever thought, that are concerned about this.”
On the Facebook group page, people have been encouraged to share how having to travel to Halifax for radiation services has impacted them, whether they are cancer patients or caregivers.
The stories are being compiled by group member Brenda Tate to be presented to the minister as well.
“Those stories tell a lot about what people are going through,” Lesser said, noting sometimes it even goes beyond the financial, physical and emotional tolls. “There’s been people who have experienced tragedy on the road, car accidents on the road. There’s a whole bunch of different angles that I never thought of and I don’t think most people have.”