The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network’s (CCSN) All-party Caucus at Queen’s Park in Toronto was held on April 24, 2023. It was attended by several CCSN staff, including President and CEO Jackie Manthorne, Community Engagement Manager Lindsay Timm, Communications Manager Trevor Smith-Millar, and Public Policy Coordinator Connor Mulders.
Also in attendance were Dense Breasts Canada co-founder and Executive Director, Jennie Dale, and Dr. Martin Yaffe, noted senior scientist at the Odette Cancer Research Program whose research focus is on digital imaging for medical diagnosis and management of disease. In addition to Dr. Yaffe, presenters included cancer patient advocates Michele Burleigh, Christine and Jamie Carr, and Shira Farber.
Our non-partisan Caucus was attended by MPPs and aides from the Conservative, NDP, Liberal and Green parties. A full list of those who attended is below.
Manthorne opened the Caucus meeting by welcoming participants, and then drew attention to the danger of exposure to radon, which is the second highest cause of lung cancer, with approximately 3,300 deaths from lung cancer in Canada and 850 in Ontario every year. “Health Canada estimates that about 16 per cent of lung cancer deaths are caused by exposed to Radon in the home.” Manthorne said. “Clearly, Ontario should add exposure to radon to Ontario’s lung cancer screening program and make radon tests free of charge to Ontarians worried about radon exposure. This will save lives.”
Timm provided a brief update on the activities and services offered by CCSN, and Mulders presented the preliminary results of CCSN’s fifth Cancer Can’t Wait survey about COVID-19 disruption of cancer care in Canada in which cancer patients and caregivers were asked about living with long COVID-19.
Both Christine Carr and Michele Burleigh addressed MPPs about the risk of long COVID-19 in the cancer community. Carr, who is a survivor of several cancers, including rectal cancer during the pandemic, commented that “The need for follow-up and consistent care remains. The best way to deal with [cancer] is to deal with it early and nip it in the bud.”
Burleigh stated that, “I did feel it was important to be here today to raise awareness that this [COVID-19] is still happening, and people are still experiencing it. The immunocompromised community would agree that at this point, taking steps back to where we were two years ago is not a reasonable thing to do. But there are things that we as a society can do to protect this community.”
Farber, a Dense Breasts Canada volunteer, spoke passionately about her struggle to be screened in her 40s, and the consequences of a late-stage diagnosis. “I wasn’t able to work for over a year, I almost lost my business, I incurred tremendous debt and legal fees to get back on my feet. My husband had to reduce his workload to care for me and our children, and two of our children required therapy to cope with the situational anxiety and stress. I can no longer be a caregiver to my mother. I have the most wonderful network of friends and family, and a medical team I trust and value. There is not a day that goes by that I do not appreciate being Canadian, living in Ontario, and having access to universal healthcare. But had I been allowed to self-refer for a mammogram in my 40s rather than needing my physician’s approval, I would have been able to reduce my risk of a late diagnosis.”
Dr. Yaffe then spoke about the importance of screening women in their 40s, given that 16 per cent of breast cancer deaths come from cancers developed in women in that age group. Screening from 40 would result in 44 per cent fewer deaths in women screened; find smaller cancers at an earlier stage; and diagnose breasts cancers which are less likely to require harsh treatments (mastectomy, chemo, axillary dissection).
In her closing remarks, Manthorne also urged MPPs to do away with the upper age cap of 74 on breast cancer screening, given that breast cancers do develop in older women. Many Ontarians aged out of the breast screening program during the pandemic, and therefore require a requisition from their healthcare provider to be screened. This is an obstacle for those who do not have a family doctor or whose healthcare provider will not provide a requisition. It also gives women over 74 the impression that they are not likely to develop breast cancer, when in fact breast cancer incidence increases with age.
In the days following the Caucus, CCSN staff met with several MPPs, including NDP Health Critic France Gélinas about lung cancer screening in rural and remote regions and breast cancer
screening of women in their 40s; MPP Natalia Kusendova, about radon exposure; and MPP Laura Smith about radon exposure and issues related to breast cancer screening. Potential solutions to these issues were discussed at every meeting.
CCSN continues to work with MPPs from all parties to raise awareness and issues important to cancer patients and caregivers with the objective of early diagnosis and improved access to treatment so that an increasing number of cancer patients become cancer survivors.
MPPs who attended CCSN’s All-party Cancer Caucus:
|MPP Daisy Wai||Richmond Hill
PA to the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
|MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy||Newmarket Aurora
PA to the Minister of Health
|MPP Robin Martin||Eglinton-Lawrence
PA to the Minister of Health
|MPP Laura Smith||Thornhill
PA to Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
|MPP Natalia Kusendova||Mississauga Centre.
PA to the Minister of Francophone Affairs
|MPP Michael Mantha||Algoma-Manitoulin|
|MPP Chris Glover||Spadina-Fort York|
|MPP Bhutila Karpoche||Parkdale-High Park|
|MPP France Gelinas||Nickle Belt
|MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam||Toronto Centre|
|MPP John Fraser||Ottawa South|
|MPP Mike Schreiner||Guelph|
We also welcomed several executive assistants, including:
- Ministry of Transportation, The Honourable Caroline Mulroney
- Minister of Health, Alex Millier, Director of Stakeholders and Member Relations Representatives of the Premier’s Office Communications Branch
EA to Peter Tabuns, NDP Toronto-Danforth