Chemo in Cornwall: local cancer treatment unit opens at CCH

Dignitaries cut the ribbon on the new chemotherapy unit on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 at the Cornwall Community Hospital. Cutting the ribbon are Cornwall Hospital Foundation Executive Director Erin Killoran, hospital board chairman Melanie Baker-Brown, support and cancer patient Denise Lalande, hospital CEO Jeanette Despatie, Regional Cancer Program Clinical Director Cathy DeGrasse and MPP Jim McDonell. The unit will be able to take its first patient on Monday. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Cancer care – closer to home for SD&G residents – is off and running at the Cornwall Community Hospital.

Officials cut the ribbon Friday afternoon on the new chemotherapy unit on the fifth floor of the Cornwall Community Hospital.

CCH Chief Executive Officer Jeanette Despatie was emotional as she spoke about bringing the project, years in the making, to its conclusion.

“Our gratitude begins with the patients themselves. Patients, like my friend Denise (Lalande), who identified and spoke to this local need. Every day some of our sickest residents are forced to travel to receive this critical treatment. As of February 29th, that will change for many,” she said, her voice cracking.

The “outreach chemotherapy clinic” will be able to take its first patient on Monday (Feb. 29), though the service will be managed through the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Center and Cancer Care Ontario.

The unit will start treating urinary tract and lung cancers and expand from there.

“We know that just attending a chemotherapy unit can be stressful for patients and for us to be able to provide this service at home just feels right,” Despatie said.

MPP Jim McDonell also presented a plaque to Despatie. “It’s a cause for celebration and I know there’s been a lot of work done by a lot of community people, not only to raise money, but to actual put this in place, from the builders to the planners to the administration here…so congratulations on a job well done,” McDonell said.

Cancer survivor Denise Lalande talked about the struggles of travelling for cancer treatment. She and her husband, Marcel, donated the “bravery bell” in the chemo department.

“Each time the bell is rung, it announces that a patient has finished his or her treatment. It is so meaningful to hear the sound of that bell,” Lalande said. “Some are afraid to ring the bell, some patients will not ring it, due to continuous treatment, but if you wish, you can ring the hell out of it. Marcel and I will give you carte blanche.”

Through a intense fundraising campaign and the help of many donors, the Cornwall Hospital Foundation was able to bring in the $400,000 in one year needed for equipment for the department.

Around 160 people toured the department today (Friday) and saw those items fitted with “price tags” which gave people a sense of where the fundraising dollars were spent.

The most expensive item is the $200,000 hood rooms – a negative pressure environment where pharmacists can mix the toxic chemotherapy drugs. It’s also outfitted with a specially-sealed pass-through compartment between the treatment area and the mixing room, in order to maximize safety for nurses, patients and pharmacists.

Once it’s running at full capacity, the six chair and one bed facility hopes to treat 250 patients a year and will be able to handle about a dozen people a day.

Those needing radiation along with chemo will still have to go to Ottawa for treatment.

Click on a thumbnail below to see more pictures from the chemotherapy unit.