Beachburg, Ont. mother has life-saving surgery put on hold

Paige Atherton thought her cancer journey could have been coming to an end when she arrived at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

The 28-year-old mother of three from Beachburg, Ont. was diagnosed with stage three appendix cancer in December 2019, which has since spread to stage four abdominal cancer.

In the year-and-a-half since her diagnosis, Atherton has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy. She was referred to Mount Sinai to have surgery that would remove the cancer from her body and potentially save her life.

“Setting eyes upon Mount Sinai for the first time was like finding a beacon in a storm,” Atherton said in a video posted to Facebook April 20.

But earlier this month, Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams issued a directive to postpone all non-urgent surgeries due to the ongoing pandemic and strain it was putting on the health care system. Atherton’s surgery was one of those considered non-urgent.

“It was almost disbelief,” Atherton said. “It makes me feel very frustrated because when it comes to cancer, it’s a matter of life or death really, and it can start spreading at any time.”

After the directive was made, the wife and mother to three boys started a petition online calling for cancer surgeries to be reinstated in Ontario. In just a couple of weeks it has already amassed more than 25,000 signatures.

Atherton says she felt hopeless after her surgery was cancelled, knowing the cancer was still growing inside of her. While she says she understands the seriousness of the ongoing pandemic, she believes that doesn’t mean others should be left by the wayside.

“Right now I feel like there’s this tunnel vision on COVID-19 patients, when really there is a whole other realm of conditions that need treatment,” says Atherton. “There needs to be a discussion about how we can find balance to treat everybody who needs it.”

In her emotional plea on Facebook, Atherton spoke directly to Ontario’s premier. “Here’s the problem Mr. Ford: cancer doesn’t have patience.”

Right now, Atherton says she still doesn’t have a surgery date, but is hopeful surgeries will resume within the next month.

“Our health system needs some more resources supplied to them so that they can drop their jobs as effectively as possible.”