The Crusade For a New Cancer Centre


As I struggle through this cancer journey, I’m sincerely grateful to have access to some of North America’s top oncologists and cancer surgeons and to be offered cutting-edge treatment options. Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre is consistently ranked among the top ten treatment and research facilities in Canada. Despite its level of success, there is undeniable evidence that the venerable centre is showing its age and needs to be replaced. Politicians and health officials acknowledge that the building itself ran out of space approximately a decade ago. This isn’t surprising considering Calgary’s surging population. Add to this the fact that our demographic is changing and more people have reached a time of life when they are most at risk for cancer.

Like the majority of patients undergoing treatment at the Baker Centre I have mixed feelings regarding my experience. I’m definitely impressed by the top-notch care I’ve received from the dedicated staff and volunteers. However, I’m alarmed by the all too obviously crowded quarters. On my visits I find it impossible not to notice how filled to capacity the building is—I’ve been subjected to the overflowing parking lot, the busy chemotherapy beds and the standing room only waiting areas.

The Tom Baker Cancer Centre has been serving men and women diagnosed with cancer for approximately a generation now; it opened its doors 31 years ago in the early 1980s. At the time, Albertan’s marveled at the spacious and innovative new facility. There was incredible pride in the centre by those involved in its creation. The building had been meticulously designed to provide cancer care for Calgary’s population of 600,000 and the rest of southern Alberta. What is more, the new Baker Centre had cutting-edge technology, a first-rate young staff and space, an abundance of space.

While the centre’s first doctors once pondered how exactly they’d fill all the new space available to them, today’s oncologists, nurses and technicians grapple with cramped offices, crowded reception areas and patients lining the hallways waiting for treatment. Tom Baker has had four medical directors since 1981. The current medical director is Dr. Peter Craighead, who has been in the role for six years. “ I think all of us are concerned,” Craighead recently told reporters. “Our caregivers are pretty stressed by the lack of space, the lack of ability to grow.”

On March 1, 2013, the Alberta government took a fundamental step to address these issues and announced plans for a new cancer centre to be built in Calgary. “We know the need for cancer care will continue to grow, and we need a facility to increase capacity and improve patient care,” said Premier Alison Redford at the press conference. “This state-of-the-art facility will be a hub for cancer care for Calgary and southern Alberta.”

Alison Redford and Health Minister Fred Horne

“The Tom Baker Cancer Centre has served Alberta well, but it was never designed to meet this level of demand,” added Health Minister Fred Horne. “This new facility will ensure services are integrated for more effective and seamless patient care, and will also maintain Alberta’s place as a leader in cancer research and education.”

Obviously this long awaited news has generated absolute delight in the staff at Calgary’s Baker Centre and in the approximately 19,200 patients that are currently undergoing cancer treatment in Calgary. The announcement has given many a reason to be cautiously optimistic that the Alberta government will fulfill its promise this time. There have been assurances in the past of a new cancer centre, only to have the project shelved when government funds were not made available. I agree with advocates who believe there is no alternative anymore but to replace the aging Tom Baker Centre, at least if we are to continue to provide first-rate cancer care in this city.

Baker Centre construction
The Baker Centre was expanded in the 1990s.

I expect that this time those in power are ultimately going to follow through because of the absolute urgency of the project. Also, the details that have been made public are more specific than in the past. The Alberta government has agreed to partner with the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which has already committed $200 million toward the project. According to the latest reports the province is still committed to the new centre. They’ve promised to spend $160 million over the next three years—including $20 million this year—to get the project up and running. While the province originally said that it expected to get started on construction in 2015, it’s now indicating that work on the colossal $1.3-billion facility won’t get underway until 2016.

An opening day for the centre is currently pegged for summer 2020. One thing is guaranteed; it will take a lot of collaboration and mutual resolve before Calgary’s new ultramodern cancer centre finally comes to fruition. Of course, the Alberta government and the Alberta Cancer Foundation must lead the way, but the philanthropy of private individuals and the generosity of Calgary’s corporate community will also perform a crucial role.

Meanwhile, the oncologists at the Baker Centre have informed me that if I continue to stay in remission until 2017 they will consider my therapy finished. In due course, their plan is to place me back into the care of my family doctor and gynaecologist. There will be no more need for regular checkups or treatments from cancer specialists, and I will essentially be declared cancer-free. My ultimate dream is that this extraordinary moment will occur, and that it will occur for thousands of patients after me in Calgary’s brand new state-of-the art cancer centre!

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