Dan St. Andrews, a former patient and current volunteer at the BC Cancer Agency’s Fraser Valley Centre (FVC) in Surrey, had nothing but praise during his tearful thank you at the centre’s 20th anniversary celebration Thursday.
Staff members recalled their fondest and funniest memories, but it was St. Andrews’ speech that stood out.
As he talked about his treatments at the centre, he began tearing up, having to take a moment to compose himself.
St. Andrews, now 65, was diagnosed with throat cancer in June 2009. He was given a 20 per cent chance of surviving if he had radiation treatments. If he had chemotherapy, too, he would have a 40 per cent chance of surviving.
“It was life changing because when you find out you’ve got less than a 50-per-cent chance of surviving, you start to prepare for the end,” he told The Leader. “I just figured, well, that’s it.”
He started treatments in August of the same year and received the maximum number of radiation treatments.
St. Andrews said it was probably the hardest thing he’d ever gone through because he couldn’t swallow. He said to this day, he still can’t eat solid food and it’s affected the way he talks.
“I sound like I’m drunk or have a speech impediment.”
St. Andrews recalled one day when a therapist at the centre asked him how he was doing.
Considering his chances, he said “not very well.” He said the therapist told him, “well, then you’re going to be in the 40 per cent group.”
“I thought about it… if you wake up every morning thinking you’re in the 60 per cent group that’s not going to make it, what kind of quality of life would that be?” St. Andrews said.
He said he listened to what the therapist said even when he was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance and spent three weeks in care.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘you’re in the 40-per-cent group.’ And I’m still here,” he said through tears. “In my darkest moments, I thought of what the therapist said, and that’s what kept me going.”
After his last visit, St. Andrews went to visit the doctor who helped him through a lot of his treatments.
“I had not shed a tear. I may have felt sorry for myself, but I never once shed a tear,” he said. “When I went to hug her, the floodgates opened. I couldn’t stop.”
It was then, in September 2011, he decided to start volunteering at the FVC two days a week.
“This was the best thing I ever did, because when I came here, it allowed me give a little bit back to all these people.”
He said every patient at the the centre gets a warm welcome.
“It’s a difficult thing, having cancer, no doubt about it, and whether people come in here with a 90-per-cent success rate or zero, they’re all treated equally.”
Dr. Frances Wong, the chief physician for the Fraser Valley Centre, said the centre strives to provide a special family feeling.
“For the entire patient’s journey in cancer care, we try to make a difference,” she told the group assembled for the anniversary celebration.
Wong has been with the centre since before its official opening on April 3, 1995.
It was the third regional cancer centre built in B.C. In addition to Surrey’s, there are now cancer centres in Victoria, Vancouver, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna.
Each year, Fraser Valley Centre sees more than 2,750 new patients and over 52,000 treatment visits and follow-up appointments, as well as offering support care services.