Following Hope’s Path XXII: Mindemoya chemotherapy room is a godsend to cancer patients

Hair loss is one of the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Not much of one for vanity, Mary Buie rocks her “baby bird head” during a visit to The Manitoulin Expositor offices in Little Current. Hair loss is old hat for Ms. Buie, who had a similar result from her last bout with cancer. Undaunted, she has found the experience a grand fashion opportunity when it comes to headscarves. photo by Michael Erskine

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2013 retired nurse and midwife Mary Buie approached The Expositor with a mission. She had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was wondering whether this newspaper would be interested in following her journey as she battled the disease. It was with some trepidation that this paper agreed as the eventual outcome was far from certain to be positive. What followed was an engaging series that leavened a very serious health issue with Ms. Buie’s irrepressible personality. Ms. Buie recently informed The Expositor that she would once again be facing down cancer. The Expositor is restarting the series ‘Following Hope’s Path’ to continue relaying the story of her journey. This edition of ‘Following Hope’s Path expands the story to include Ms. Buie’s impressions of the Mindemoya chemotherapy room and how she is coping with the changes in her appearance.

MINDEMOYA – Mary Buie was very excited when she learned that she would be able to undergo some of her chemotherapy sessions at Manitoulin Health Centre’s Mindemoya site chemotherapy room. 

“The chemo room at Mindemoya is funded for four days: one nurse, one chair, 8 am to 4 pm, Tuesday to Friday,” explained Ms. Buie. “The nurse has to have special training and has to complete a provincial course and annually is recertified. There is specific online continuing education to maintain competency above the basic RN (registered nurse) competency. In Mindemoya the chemo nurse is responsible for medication management, supply and mixing.”

At the moment there are 28 patients on the books here. The infusions are intravenous and each person may have just one or up to five at a time for each chemo session.”

The drugs are administered at different rates and have to be prepared individually under a special chemical hood in a special room as these drugs are toxic and great care must be taken in their preparation and disposal, explained Ms. Buie. “The nurse has to don special protective clothing and do a surgical scrub for each drug prepared. She even has to don special clogs on her feet that have to be wiped down each time. When she comes out from drug preparation, special protective equipment has to be again beworn after thorough cleaning between each drug preparation. So you can see that if a patient has to have a lot of drugs each time it can take all day for just one patient. Not to mention the special cleaning that has to take place after each chemo patient.”

The nurse also has to take vital signs and chart on the computer for each treatment for a patient, do paperwork and make phone calls . 

“Now we are hearing that renovations are about to start in the emergency treatment area at the Mindemoya (site of Manitoulin Health Centre) hospital,” said Ms. Buie. “These will include changes to the chemo area—the room serving cancer patients will have two chairs and these will be used for ancillary purposes such as disconnecting chemo bottles and doing PIC and central line dressings.” (PIC lines are semi-permanent connections to a patient’s veins that take the place of temporary intravenous tubes.)

“It is hoped that sometime in the future both chairs can be used for chemo patients as there is a waiting list,” said Ms. Buie. The two chair expansion is not fully dependant on funding. “For that to happen a registered pharmacy technician would need to be hired as it is the preparation of the drugs that takes time and once patients are receiving theirs they have to be monitored closely. The chemo nurse could look after them both as happens in the Cancer Centre chemo room Sudbury. Mindemoya and Elliott Lake are the only outreach chemotherapy satellite sites where nurses hold duel roles, mixing medications and delivering patient care. Manitoulin Health Centre continues to work closely with the North Eastern Cancer Centre for remote pharmacy support. There is a yearly site visit to make sure that it is up to standard.”

The Mindemoya chemo room has been a godsend for many families, including her own, noted Ms. Buie. The availability of the service close to home not only removes the arduous journey to Sudbury from the equation, but also the need for hotel rooms and meals while away from home.

Ms. Buie said that she continues to abide in her faith and remains deeply thankful for the support of her family, her community and the health system during this challenging time.

“Cancer is my chronic disease,” she said. “They are helping me to get through and with whatever comes.”