Cancer Care Close to Home

It was 1999 when Esmé Comfort, now a town councillor, was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, a cancer diagnosis still meant regular trips to Calgary to receive chemotherapy treatment.

“It was a lot of driving and organizing because I was very tired and I couldn't drive,” says Esmé. At least two extra hours spent in the car travelling to and from each chemo treatment was that much less time to rest up before the next one.

When Esmé was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2015, she was relieved to leave behind the stress and planning involved in coordinating drives to and from Calgary for chemotherapy. Instead, she received chemotherapy at the Bow Valley Community Cancer Centre at the Canmore General Hospital, which was fully funded with $1 million from the Canmore and Area Health Care Foundation and completed in 2010.

Walking through the hospital doors, many of the staff are people Esmé knows from her decades in Canmore.

“I come into the desk and they all know me; one of the people on the desk was a classmate of my eldest son,” says Esmé, who was diagnosed with a new breast cancer in 2018.

While Esmé describes her experiences at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary as being quite positive — currently she is finishing up radiation treatment there — having her chemotherapy at the Canmore General Hospital has had a different feeling to it because of its size and its location in her community.

“I think when you're necessarily dealing with more strangers you feel like you have to put up a bit of a defence and you have to… present a front to the world,” says Esmé.

Starting cancer treatment, even when Esmé had been through it before, was scary.

“You're frightened, and so anything that makes you feel more comfortable and relaxed… is going to translate to how well the treatment works,” she says. “Being able to be in my own community and having it easy for my husband to pick me up at the end of the treatment… I think it's really a blessing.”

Being close to home not only allowed Esmé to feel more at ease, spend less time in the car and more time recuperating; it also allowed her friends to visit her while she would receive chemo. A couple of times she describes it as “almost an embarrassment of riches,” when so many people stopped by that there was a lineup at the door of the Bow Valley Community Cancer Centre.

“It was amazing to have that proximity of friends and they would often be people that maybe couldn't get into Calgary,” but who wanted to drop in to tell her a funny story, give her a blanket or a smoothie, says Esmé.

She still has radiation in Calgary, but technology has streamlined some of the barriers in receiving care with different healthcare providers at multiple hospitals.

“If I can get my blood test done here the results go up on Netcare and they can see them in Calgary and in the past that wasn't the case,” she says.

Throughout treatment, Esmé has had dedicated cancer nurses who have helped her navigate her care, acting as advocates in various situations.

“Having that Nurse Navigator person is a huge benefit,” says Esmé. “I think they get to know who you are.”

The Canmore and Area Health Care Foundation donates $50,000 a year to the Canmore General Hospital’s cancer programs, including music and art therapies, as well as yoga, mindfulness and meditation sessions for both patients and their families.

Esmé Comfort received chemotherapy treatments at the Canmore General Hospital's Bow Valley Community Cancer Centre in 2016 and 2018

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