AHS increases number of cancer surgeries

August 24, 2022

Susan Ruddick is a cancer survivor and AHS Patient Advisor. She volunteers support to other individuals diagnosed with cancer.

Susan Ruddick is a cancer survivor and AHS Patient Advisor. She volunteers support to other individuals diagnosed with cancer.

Survivor advocates for others diagnosed with cancer

Story by Angela Unsworth

EDMONTON — Susan Ruddick has survived two cancer diagnoses. The first one was caught early, and Susan was connected with a nurse navigator who helped guide her through the process.

For her second diagnosis however, it was a different story.

"This time, I spoke with my doctor and mentioned feeling a pain," says Susan, who is also an Alberta Health Services (AHS) Patient Advisor. "My doctor took it seriously and ordered all the tests. A spot was found in the ultrasound, and it was biopsied, but the results all came back as benign, and all was well. It wasn’t until my followup appointment six months later, in June 2021, that a biopsy showed that the spot had doubled in size and was invasive.

"I was booked in for surgery at the end of September. This was at the height of the pandemic and I was worried about surgery cancellations. I started looking elsewhere just in case my surgery was cancelled, but the delays were happening across the country. My surgery was delayed by a week, but I still got in at the end of September."

In 2019, AHS began work on the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI), a plan focused on reducing surgical wait times for Albertans. Through the strategies under the ASI, AHS continues to increase surgical activity in the province to get Albertans the surgical care they need within clinically recommended wait times.

The strategies are succeeding, with the current number of cancer surgeries up at 115 per cent of normal activity. As part of the ASI, prioritization of patients like Susan during the pandemic ensured the most acute received their surgery when they needed it.

"Cancer treatment and care remains one of our highest priorities, and these procedures were prioritized throughout the pandemic,” says Dr. Lloyd Mack, Medical Lead, Cancer Surgery Alberta. “The number of people being diagnosed with cancer is increasing each year due to an aging population combined with population growth. When necessary, cancer surgeries are prioritized to make sure that those who have the most urgent need go first."

The ASI also focuses on reducing surgical wait times for Albertans, and improving the patient’s entire surgical journey, a goal that‘s close to Susan’s heart, having navigated through the process twice. She now provides support to other individuals diagnosed with cancer through her role as a peer support volunteer at Wellspring, a cancer-support centre.

"It’s common to meet women who express feelings of panic at their cancer diagnosis," she adds. "When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t even know how to tell time anymore; all of your focus is on answering the question of ‘how do I get this fixed’? With my second diagnosis, I knew who to call, but other people might not."

One key aspect of the ASI is its focus on ensuring consistency of care across the province, with supportive initiatives like the nurse navigator program that guided Susan through her diagnoses and surgery. It’s available at all points of care.

For more information on the ASI and how it will help improve Albertan’s surgical journey, please visit ahs.ca/asi.