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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 18, 2020
A North Sydney woman’s wish not to have cancer patients travel off Cape Breton Island for certain treatments has been fulfilled.
Unfortunately, the installation of the island’s first stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) machine at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital cancer centre comes too late for Brenda McCarthy.
McCarthy, 60, died in June after a recurrence of pancreatic cancer but not before spearheading the fundraising effort to purchase the machine.
“When I was told I had stage II pancreatic cancer, it was like the wind was taken from me. Time stood still for a moment, but it seemed like forever,” said McCarthy, in a special feature that appeared in the Cape Breton Post in October 2019.
“The biggest obstacle in my journey was that the radiation oncologist wanted me to have stereotactic body radiation therapy. We don’t currently offer this specialized and concentrated treatment at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, so I would have had to travel to Ontario,” said McCarthy, noting her condition would not allow such travel.
“We fight this battle with everything we have and then we fight a little more. By giving back, you were with me for my treatment. You allowed my sisters to sit beside me, hold my hands and wipe away my tears. With your compassion, along with my faith, I fought. Let’s fight together and bring stereotactic body radiation home — to Cape Breton,” said McCarthy, in successfully convincing donors to step-up make her dream a reality.
As with any medical condition, patients who are able to receive treatments close to home are greatly impacted by having family and friends close by for support. The financial implications of such travel are also eased considerably.
“I want to see future cancer treatment become more accessible and comforting for those who unfortunately follow in my footsteps. If this is the legacy I get to be a part of, bringing stereotactic body radiation therapy to my community, cancer will never beat me. I will have won this battle, no matter what,” said McCarthy, in 2019.
The SBRT machine is an accelerated and ultra-precise form of radiation therapy recommended for certain cancers.
Rather than patients receiving weeks of treatment, this type of therapy can be administered in one to five days.
The equipment immobilizes the patient body and enables pinpoint accuracy for treating tumors while sparing healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.
As a result, patients receive faster treatment and fewer side effects.
Dr. Kwamena Beecham, radiation oncologist lead at the island cancer centre, said such therapy is now available for patients with such cancers like lung, liver, prostate, spine and brain tumors.
He said being able to offer these treatments locally helps to keep patients closer to family and friends and endure shorter treatment spans.
McCarthy’s daughter, Kristina, said that while fulfilling her mom’s dream is bittersweet, the family is extremely happy in knowing many island residents will now be able to receive treatment at home.
“The family would like to thank the community and all those who donated to the cause. By giving, they helped make mom’s dream come true,” she said.
With McCarthy taking the lead when it came to fundraising, the centre’s annual fundraising event, RadioDay, raised more than $100,000 in 2019.
Another 1,114 donors, many of whom called in for the event, donated in a variety of ways and in November 2019, McCarthy hosted an event at the Emera Centre in North Sydney and raised more than $50,000.
“It demonstrates the impact one person can make on an entire community,” said Rick McCarthy, acting CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation.
“Brenda’s action inspired the entire community to come together to offer a new and exciting way to treat cancer in Cape Breton. Although Brenda passed away, she left us knowing how much her community cares. Her legacy will drastically change lives.”