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Cancer survivor says the system failed her because she's without a family doctor

'We live in a society today where having a family doctor is a privilege, not a right'
Kittana Ruels believes her cancer could have been caught earlier had a family doctor been able to help her. Photo submitted.

A North Bay woman battling stage three cancer is trying to bring more awareness to the family doctor shortage in northern Ontario.

Kittana Ruels moved from the GTA to North Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 45-year-old used to live in the north and had a family doctor back then, however, when she moved back she was told there would be a five to 10-year wait list to acquire a family doctor. 

In fact, her initial challenge in trying to find a family doctor occurred when she was trying to get medical help for her young son. 

"The main challenge is you go to a walk-in clinic and it is some random doctor from down south who you never hear from again, that is the main challenge," she said. 

A cancer survivor, Ruels struggled to find a family physician and relied heavily on virtual care through a walk-in clinic in North Bay. 

That clinic, operated by a nurse practitioner used a virtual platform to video conference with doctors.  

Relying on this service, Ruels, who battled breast cancer in 2018, says she struggled to get help when she needed it. 

Ruels was looking to have a Mammogram scan done in May of 2022, but that did not occur until September of 2022.  

But in June of 2023, the 45-year-old discovered a lump. She returned to the clinic a few weeks later and requested her files since she never heard back about the results. 

So when she picked up her files, she read on July 18, 2023 that she had cancer. 

No one let her know. 

In fact, the files also showed scans from the previous year that were flagged. Again she claims there was no follow-up.  

After that, the North Bay Regional Health Centre scheduled three appointments for her with a mammogram at the end of August, an ultrasound at the end of October, and a bone scan in the New Year. 

Due to her circumstances, she decided to push back. 

"Do not risk your health because your life can depend on it," she said.  

Ruels says talking to other women in her breast cancer online support group, she has realized her situation is sadly not that unique. 

"I just want people to know what I went through because they are probably going through it too," she said. 

"My main message is to follow up. Not just go and wait. People are avoiding emergency departments due to the long waits. Now people are not even getting checked or diagnosed. They need to go to these smaller clinics. I need them to know to hold people accountable and that they can follow up on their own."

Ruels believes if she had a family doctor, she would not have fallen through the cracks. She has undergone a double mastectomy and she is now preparing for the painful journey involving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

"We live in a society today where having a family doctor is a privilege, not a right," she says.

"Everybody should have access to life-saving medical care. Everybody should have access to routine medical care. Remember those days when you could just go in for a check-up?  Those days are long gone. Now you are waiting months to go and see your doctor and God forbid that it is urgent. What are you going to do?"

Chris Dawson

About the Author: Chris Dawson

Chris Dawson has been with since 2004. He has provided up-to-the-minute sports coverage and has become a key member of the BayToday news team.
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