Dr. Sharlene Gill

Q & A with Dr. Sharlene Gill

One of Canada’s leading oncologists – Dr. Sharlene Gill of Vancouver has commended the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society for its role in getting cancer patients to treatment.

Interviewed by Intrepid Reporter: George Garrett | VCDS Vice-President


Question: Is there is a dilatory effect on cancer patients by the COVID-19 virus?

Concern that patients with cancer who contacted the virus did less well in terms of surviving COVID-19. It was much more worrisome and there were additional factors that compounded that. If they had active cancer and were also on chemotherapy, and were older or had other forms of illness like hypertension and diabetes. All of those worked against their ability to recover from COVID-19 so as oncologists across the world started to learn about it we became concerned not only about the pandemic but the effect the pandemic would have on our patients with cancer. We had to consider how to balance that with the fact that the cancer is still there and the need for them to continue to receive treatment and how do we make the environment as safe as possible so that they can still come in for medically-necessary treatment. There is a risk that they cannot isolate at home and just stay home. They would have to come for medical appointments. The bottom line right now is that COVID-19 itself can be more severe in cancer patients. The likelihood of surviving COVID-19 is less if you have active cancer treated by chemotherapy. I think that has become accepted. The truth is that in Canada, with compliance with public health measures and just how the pandemic has played out. In BC we have been able to maintain cancer services. We’re super grateful for that but have involved discussions with patients, informing them about risks and trying to have procedures in places that mitigate those risks as much as possible in terms of patient screening, protective equipment and those kinds of things.

 Question: Role of cancer drivers. What’s the relative importance of being able to get to the facility.

The work that you and your colleagues do with the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society is so critical. So many of my patients rely on that service. First, we thank you. Secondly, I would say that in this climate, especially with concerns about public transit and exposure that cancer patients have which is a great imperative…for patients to on chemo to be able to come in and receive their treatment – getting there safely and being able to get to the cancer treatment centre on time…it’s clearly important because that’s the only opportunity they have to be able to receive their treatment. I would also say that our volumes are such that we operate at full capacity, the need to be able to deliver the treatment in a timely fashion is important. As much as we try to accommodate those who are unable to show up for their appointments and they show up later in the afternoon, there isn’t that much flexibility. Being able to keep their scheduled appointment is very important.

 (referring to our drivers) Anyone who puts themselves in a situation where they are interacting with people, especially in a volunteer capacity..it’s really..so appreciated. We recognized that a lot of these services had to be suspended. We are grateful that is up and running again.