Ontario woman waited a full year for cancer screening due to COVID-19

Feb 3 2022, 5:13 pm

Mélodie Cyr was among the first people in Ontario to have their cancer screening delayed due to COVID-19; it would take a year for the biopsy to be rescheduled.

Cyr wasn’t new to medical procedures. She and her doctor had been monitoring nodules on her thyroid since 2017. One of these nodules grew quickly and by 2020 needed to be biopsied to determine if it was cancer.

Leading up to the biopsy, COVID-19 was making headlines, but otherwise, there was no indication that Cyr’s procedure wouldn’t be able to go ahead.

“The day before my scheduled biopsy, I received a call, and they said that all biopsies were cancelled,” she told Daily Hive in an interview.

With a medical background and as someone who has volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society, she wasn’t going to take the cancellation lying down. She asked the clinic why her biopsy would be cancelled and was told that the cancer she might have wasn’t considered urgent.

“I’ve studied cancer, and I was like, no, that’s not true,” she said.

Cyr had no idea it would be a year before she was able to get the biopsy she needed. A full year of not knowing if she had cancer, if it might spread, or if delaying diagnosis would have long-term impacts.

“I was very angry and, well, upset as well,” she said.

She was shocked that cancer patients and patients waiting for diagnosis were being brushed to the side in that way.

“I was just baffled by the way that they were treating cancer patients or treating diagnosis of cancer,” Cyr said.

Every day while she waited for her biopsy, she would touch her neck where she could feel the lump. She monitored it daily, trying to determine if it had changed if she might feel it become worse.

“Every day, I was actually touching my neck because you can feel the bump,” she said. “So, every day, I was monitoring the growth of it.”

Cyr also put her medical background to use and dove into research. She read journal article after journal article about diagnosis and how long it takes before things take a turn for the worse.

“They have like a scheme, or like a point system to note if it’s absolutely cancer or not, and I was one point away from it being absolutely cancer,” she said.

That ran through her head constantly. She credits her family and dog for getting her through the worst of it. But she also wasn’t willing to give up on herself. She called the clinic every week and asked if it was time yet, if her doctor had filed things for her and what the next steps were.

“I was really advocating for myself and pushing for me to get the services that I deserve,” said Cyr.

It was made all the more difficult by the fact that she didn’t have any idea when her biopsy would be rescheduled. There was no timeframe, just waiting.

At this point, she had been volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society since 2016. Cyr did presentations for the organization; she would tell audiences about the Canadian Cancer Society, or about different types of cancer. When she had her biopsy cancelled, the organization asked her to share her story, and she said: “yes.” She’s been advocating for herself and cancer patients since.

In April 2021, she was finally able to get her biopsy. A month later, Cyr had half of her thyroid removed due to precancerous cells. If it weren’t for the nurses who held her hand and braided her hair, she would’ve been entirely alone during the biopsy and surgery due to COVID-related visitor regulations at hospitals.

“There was no family around me to just hold my hand through the process,” Cyr said. “And so, when I saw my mom after, I just started bawling my eyes out. It was really hard.”

When she heard that Ontario was once again delaying cancer screenings and other diagnostics deemed non-urgent, she felt it was an “act of stupidity.”

“First of all, what are you doing to that patient? That poor patient who has been waiting for this for so long?” Cyr said.

From having been through it herself, her advice is to lean on family members, friends and loved ones. To try to carry on with your favourite activities, doing the things that make you happy. But also, put up a fight. Travel to another city if you can. Keep asking for that appointment, for that screening.

“Advocate for yourself, push for yourself,” she said.

Friday is World Cancer Day. A day to raise awareness, advocate for early detection treatment, and honour those lost to the disease.

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