A mother in Nova Scotia living with cancer is challenging Premier Stephen McNeil to meet with her after a years-long battle with the province’s health-care system.
In an emotional video posted to her Facebook page this week, Inez Rudderham said she went undiagnosed for two years because she couldn’t access a family doctor. By the time she was diagnosed, her anal cancer had progressed to its third stage.
“I dare you to take a meeting with me, and explain to me, and look into my eyes and tell me that there is no health-care crisis in my province of Nova Scotia,” said Rudderham, 33, as she wiped away tears.
“I dare you.”
Rudderham said she was turned away from emergency departments three times before her concerns were taken seriously.
“I fought for my life,” said Inez, who said radiation treatments on her pelvis has left her “barren and infertile.”
“At 33, I am in menopause because when my tumour was a polyp I did not have access to a family doctor and the ERs wouldn’t help me.”
Rudderham also spoke about mental-health services in Nova Scotia.
She said she began pursuing mental-health services in January to help her cope with her diagnosis. She said she will have to wait until the summer to receive counselling.
“This is the face of the health-care crisis in Nova Scotia. I cannot receive help for trauma that I experienced because of this failed system until July,” she said.
“What about my four-year-old daughter who doesn’t have me there, fully, because I need help and I’m not receiving it?”
The video has taken social media by storm, amassing over 50,000 shares since it was posted on Tuesday.
Experience is all too common: Doctors Nova Scotia
Tim Holland, the president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said this isn’t the first time he’s heard this kind of story.
He said Rudderham’s experience has all of the elements of the problems Nova Scotians are facing in the health-care system.
“Lack of a family physician, having to access emergency department services for health care — knowing full well that those emergency departments aren’t equipped to be diagnosing cancer like this, and are also stretched thin themselves,” he said.
He said these challenges are being seen across the country, and said the fix is “multi-factorial:” recruiting and retaining doctors and improving work environments by engaging them in important decisions and cutting back on red tape.
Response from the province
On Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil said he has asked the Health Department to reach out to Rudderham to find out more about her situation.
He said he will not commit to meeting her until he hears back from the department.
“There are challenges in the health-care system in parts of accessing primary care. We’ve always acknowledged that,” he said. “But we’ve continued to make adjustments.
Speaking with reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax, Health Minister Randy Delorey said staff with the Nova Scotia Health Authority have tried to make contact with Rudderham.
“I think, again, there’s some very specific concerns that were being raised about an individual’s personal experiences within the health-care system,” said Delorey.
“I think the health authority’s taking the right approach to reach out, to connect … with the individual as they do and provide opportunities.”
Delorey shied away from using terms like “crisis” in reference to the province’s health-care system, saying issues within the system are shared across the country.
He also said the province is making progress through new investments and programs.
“We’ve been focused on these efforts for the last number of years,” he said. “Our focus has been on primary care and we’ve been seeing those improvements.”
Also speaking after the meeting, Tory MLA Tim Halman said there has to be a “sense of urgency” when it comes to fixing gaps in Nova Scotia’s health-care system.
“This is heartbreaking. If anyone knows my story, watching that video, I see a lot there on so many levels,” he said, referencing his wife who died from cancer in 2017.
“From the perspective of an MLA, our system failed her.”
Attempts to reach Rudderham for comment were unsuccessful.
‘There’s no stopping me’
Rudderham has been documenting her journey through Nova Scotia’s health-care system since June 2018, about two weeks after she said she was diagnosed with cancer.
In the first video she posted after being diagnosed, she explained that she had been feeling unwell for about a year and that three doctors looked at her before she was given a rectal exam.
Rudderham said she used to have a family doctor but she left.
“You need to advocate for your own health,” said Rudderham. “I should have started advocating for myself sooner than I did.”
She also asked that people put pressure on the government instead of blaming health-care workers.
“Our doctors and our nurses are working in a system that does not support them,” she said.
In a follow-up video, Rudderham said she was initially diagnosed with a colorectal tumour, and later found out the tumour was actually in her anus. She said this was a good thing because its placement would make it easier to operate.
She joked that the growth, which was initially about six inches, had been named “Arnold,” before she became serious once again.
“I don’t want to make it seem like I’m taking light of this, because I’m not. I know full well what I’m facing,” she said.
I can choose to see it for what it is, which is a really beautiful opportunity for me to stand up and fight a really good fight and come out on the other side however I choose to.”
Rudderham added: “Because after this, there’s no stopping me.”