Rosaleen Helferty was in Belfast yesterday. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago, she was attending her radiotherapy treatment assessment at the City Hospital. This was the first time she travelled to the City Hospital and it will not be the last.
As if leaving her family in Derry to cross the country for treatment was not enough to contend with, in doing so Rosaleen must use public transport. This increases her already heightened risk of contracting an infection from other members of the public.
Little wonder that she described Minister McGimpsey’s announcement as “absolutely scandalous. It is just beyond understanding. I can only describe it as desperate short-sightedness.”
A member of the Pink Ladies campaigning group for the radiotherapy centre, Mrs. Helferty says: “This centre won’t help me, but it will help those coming after me.”
Discussing how she will travel the M2 for treatment, Mrs. Helferty said: “I haven’t got any family member who can drive. Anyway how could you ask anyone to take time off their work in this economic climate? What employer would be happy for their workers to take that amount of time off work?”
In fact Rosaleen told the ‘Journal’ not only will she travel on public transport but she must do so later at night to minimise “the risk of meeting someone else with a cold or a flu. I am going to get an offpeak service bus which hopefully will be less busy.
“With less people there is obviously less chance of infection. I’ve been made aware of the risks and it is all you can think about.
“My white cell count is already low at the minute.”
In fact Mrs. Helferty was hospitalised with complications due to an infection only last week.
She finishes a gruelling five week course of chemotherapy next week: “Each one is worse than the last,” she told the ‘Journal’.
The mother of three has already undergone a mastectomy and is now facing three weeks of radiotherapy at the Belfast Hospital.
She will leave Derry on a Monday morning and return late on a Friday.
Medical staff have agreed to fit five weeks of treatment into a three week time frame. “This will cut down the length of time I will be away from home so I am happy about that,” explained Rosaleen.
“It will be heartbreaking to leave my son. Even though he is 18 and has his head screwed on it will be hard. He is dong his A-levels at the minute so routine is everything to him in terms of studying. I need to be in Belfast for treatment and he needs to be at home to study. It is just horrendous leaving your child at home to face this.”
There are other difficult tasks ahead for Rosaleen, though her bravery means she acknowledges only that her treatment “will be very tiring.”
The teatment itself lasts between four and five minutes each day. “Had it been available in Derry I could have gone home to my own bed each day. Now I’ll only see it two nights out of seven.
“Radiotherapy is used to prolong life. Terminal patients are able to spend longer with their families because of this but I know some who decline it due to the travelling involved. it is just inhumane, taking terminally ill people away from their families for what, money?”
It isn’t only the moral argument which Rosaleen points to in rejecting the case put forward by Michael McGimpsey.
“When you count up the amount of time and money used for and by patients travelling to Belfast for treatment it is just a massive cost both emotionally and financially.
“The Health Minister himself announced that the facilities in Belfast City hospital would be oversubscribed by 2015. So this announcement makes even less sense in light of that. Is he ignoring questions of capacity? What does he plan to do when the City Hospital can’t meet the demand for treatment? Is he going to decide which patients can be treated? Will this be done on a geographical basis then as well?”