‘Really bad timing’: How an Alberta cancer patient has been riding the waves of COVID-19

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Battling cancer is never easy but for Grande Prairie resident David Taylor, COVID-19 has delayed treatments, cancelled surgeries and allowed the disease to spread.

Now as the fourth wave of COVID-19 washes over Alberta’s hospitals, Taylor is also starting to lose hope for a much-needed surgery to remove a tumour from his leg — and a chance to get his life back.

Taylor was diagnosed in May 2019 with penile cancer — which commonly starts in the skin cells of the penis — that has metastasized into his lymph system.

“I’ve kind of had really bad timing. As soon as I needed surgery was kind of when we were going through wave one,” he told CBC’s Radio Active on Friday.’

“It seems like every wave here, I need something done and it gets delayed.”

By early 2020, he started chemotherapy with an expectation to have the tumour surgically removed in the spring. Due to the pandemic, that operation was delayed for several months as hospitals prepared for a surge in patients.

The delay gave the cancer a chance to spread and doctors weren’t able to get it all, said Taylor. By fall, he was once again waiting for an operation when the second wave of COVID-19 crashed over Alberta.

David Taylor stands with his wife Darcie as he rings a hospital bell after ending his chemotherapy treatments in April 2020. (Supplied by David Taylor )

Taylor estimates he has spent weeks lying in hospitals over the past two years, waiting for surgeries without knowing when or if they might happen.

“The stress just keeps building and building,” he said.

Hospital protocols that disallowed visitors left Taylor feeling even more isolated.

“You feel alone. That is what cancer does, but this pandemic has amplified it,” said Taylor.

As fall crept into winter, Taylor booked a plane ticket to Mexico, where he had booked a surgery to have the tumour removed.

“I didn’t want to go to a third-world country to have surgery, I just wanted to do whatever it took to save my life,” he said.

The trip was called off when doctors in Alberta were able to schedule his procedure over Christmas. But once again, however, tests showed cancer cells had remained.

Another chance

Alberta Health Services got Taylor into an experimental immunotherapy treatment, which has helped shrink the tumour and made another surgery possible.

“The best chance I got is to hit it while it’s down,” Taylor said. “I was told in February that surgery was no longer an option, basically, that things kept growing. Now all of a sudden, I got another kick at this.”

Except, the fourth wave of COVID-19 has now cancelled all non-essential surgeries.

“If I meet my maker over this and it’s because things got delayed, I will be bitter,” he said.

Shelly Willsey, spokesperson for Alberta Health Services, said Alberta’s health-care system is under unprecedented pressure, as the number of patients requiring critical care grows.

She said the province will perform “prioritized cancer surgeries,” with non-urgent procedures being postponed.

Grateful for care

Taylor said his cancer experience has connected him with incredible doctors and nurses.

“Everybody complains about our health-care system, but I think it’s in good hands,” he said. “We just have this pandemic to deal with.”

Taylor will meet his surgeon next month, but said he does not expect to get onto the operating table anytime soon.

He hopes people who hear his story will better understand the ripple effect of a choice to not get vaccinated.

“Right now, the responsible thing to do is to go out and get a shot here. If everybody was vaccinated, the hospitals wouldn’t be overloaded,” he said.

“Here I am, potentially going to die because a person that wasn’t vaccinated and wanted to make a political statement is laying in my hospital bed that I needed for my last chance at life.”


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