Monday, December 31, 2007

Out of town care 'too tough'

Mother of boy cancer patient tells of the toll on their family
KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post | Friday, 26 October 2007


FRACTURED LIVES: Cancer sufferer Memphis Pitman with his mother, Natasha Sadler, who says leaving Wellington for treatment is too tough on them.
View video: Memphis' battle with cancer

Not long after 13-year-old Memphis Pitman was told he had life-threatening testicular cancer, he was forced to move away from his family.

View video: Memphis' battle with cancer
Cancer kids to travel for at least six months
Last child cancer doc quits

With his mother, Natasha Sadler, he moved to Auckland, where he had a barrage of treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy.

Back home in Papakowhai, his five siblings were farmed out to family while they waited for their mother and brother to return.

Wellington's young cancer patients, who have had to travel to Auckland or Christchurch for care since July, when paediatric oncologist Liz Hesketh quit, were struck a fresh blow this week with the resignation of Anne Mitchell, Wellington's sole remaining child cancer specialist.

Things will get tougher unless Capital and Coast District Health Board can strike an urgent deal with Canterbury to help provide full cancer care in Wellington before Dr Mitchell leaves in January.

Ms Sadler, who is only now coming to grips with the fact that her boy has cancer, said leaving Wellington for treatment was too tough on the family. "We didn't see our other kids for three weeks and we just couldn't handle it anymore. It's taken a real toll on our family, on us and on our other kids. And it's not conducive to my son's health. He can see that we are stressed, and misses his family too."

In the end, Ms Sadler's partner, Tatai Henare, drove from Auckland to Wellington, picked up the rest of the family and drove them back up north. They could see the impact on Memphis immediately, just by seeing the smile on his face when he saw his brothers and sisters again.

Ten weeks into his treatment, Memphis is now back home. But every three weeks, he has to fly to Auckland for further care at Starship children's hospital.

It is treatment that could be given close to home, but the resources in Wellington are stretched too thinly. And with Wednesday's resignation of Dr Mitchell, they are at a bare minimum.

"That's scary for me," Ms Sadler said. "I'm already a fragile mum as it is, but now for the time we are in Wellington, there is no regular oncologist."

Getting treatment for Memphis at Wellington Hospital would ease her family's burden immensely.

Now, when she flies to Auckland with Memphis, Mr Henare stays with the other children. Ms Sadler finds herself working till 3am most days to get her work with the Qualifications Authority done before her trips to Starship.

"This is the capital of New Zealand, the hospital is minutes away from the Beehive, and I think that says a lot about what's going on.

"There are strains and stresses that the family is having to take on board because we have to travel so far for him. It would be so much easier for our family to be here all the time."

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