B.C. cancer patients forced to walk through mob of protesters to get to chemo appointments

“I was ashamed of these people doing this.” A day after protesters rallied outside B.C. hospitals, healthcare workers say they are still shaken from the experience and the message it left behind. Ashley Burr reports.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It was an ‘inconsiderate’ and ‘heartbreaking’ scene as some cancer patients were forced to get out of cars and walk through a majority of unmasked, angry crowds in order to make their treatments and appointments.

In the early afternoon Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators loudly protested COVID-19 vaccine policies and mask mandates right outside a number of B.C. hospitals.

RELATED: ‘They should be ashamed of themselves’: Protesters target B.C. hospitals disrupting patients, staff

The sister of a patient, Dawna Faulds, recounts the scene and explains to NEWS 1130 that her brother was out of breath by the time he made it to his appointment at the B.C. Cancer Agency — which he was half an hour late for.

“I was enraged, driving down there. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic. We were stopped. People were walking by — even though they weren’t in the protest area — they were walking by yelling and holding up their signs.”

Wednesday was Faulds’s 51-year-old brother, Ed Prentice’s, second to last day for chemotherapy. But because of the massive crowd, she had to drop her immunocompromised brother four or five blocks away.

“I can’t express how angry I was. I was furious. And I wanted to lash out at them. But had I have done that — and any of them come near me — I’m afraid I probably might have got sick, who knows who’s a carrier. And my brothers in the car. I can’t do that. But it was incredibly frustrating.”

What’s especially heartbreaking for Faulds to think about is if he was a little bit sicker or going through radiation, “He would not have been able to make that walk, and he probably would have missed his time.”

“He certainly shouldn’t have had to do it through to walk through crowds and a bunch of people that are anti-vaccine. It’s dangerous. The small virus can kill him. Especially right now, there’s nobody with lower immune systems than people undergoing chemotherapy.”

Hectic, unnerving ride

Another patient, Qian Yin, says she also dealt with the stress of not knowing if she’d make her appointment as her volunteer driver found himself unable to get to the cancer clinic. The Burnaby woman has Stage 4 cancer, and was also blocked by hundreds of anti-vaxxers.

Yin ultimately was forced to get out and walk partway to her chemo appointment, despite feeling nauseous and tired.

“I was so worried, because I don’t want to miss or like late for those chemotherapy because it’s so important for me … every three weeks have to do chemo.”

Rick Janssen with the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society was troubled by what he saw as he tried to get Yin to her appointment.

He says the drive was hectic and unnerving.

About half a block away from the clinic, “I asked the lady, ‘can you get out and just locked down because we’re just sitting here,’ So she ended up walking and we got there just in time for her appointment.”

While Janssen says Yin had a good attitude about the delays, he says we were not as sympathetic, adding the crowds put people at risk.

“Cancer patients are going through enough without having to worry about getting there, so it was a little worrisome for them.”

Hospitals are ‘supposed to be safe’

While it took Faulds in the car an extra 40 minutes just to get across the street, she says she thought about the people who had to attend their medical appointment alone and without people cheering them on.

“People that are recovering from major surgeries, people that are in the last stages of cancer going for treatment or possibly in the hospital for treatment,” she says.

“It’s a hospital zone for a reason. It’s supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to be quiet. And most of all, it’s not supposed to be full of people that are putting everyone else at risk.”

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Faulds describes the crowd as “rude” and says it goes to show their selfishness by choosing a place the most vulnerable rely on to get access to health care.

“I’m sure there were a lot of people who had their appointments cancelled and some of those appointments you wait a really long time for.”

For Yin, she says she is upset for two major reasons: the impact to ambulances and others just like her.

“I can imagine how the people in the ambulance were very sad and also suffering,” she says, adding, “[the protest] influenced a lot of people like so many people on the way home after work, or … like myself … a cancer patient.”

Demonstrators across the province expressed frustration over the vaccine itself, the pandemic measures, and the incoming vaccine passport.

Starting Sept. 13, proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot will be required at restaurants and certain other businesses, services, and events in B.C.

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But in Yin’s opinion, she says, “I feel very upset because … the vaccine is very important. That can protect the people.”

The protest outside hospitals against government COVID-19 rules did slow the ability of ambulances to bring patients to emergency according to Trevor White the operations director at S.N. Transport.

In response to the massive protest, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix called the demonstrations a deliberate act of hostility.

Dix is not saying yet if safety bubble zones might be set up outside hospitals.

Dix is non-committal when it comes to possibly taking legal action against the people who slowed down ambulances and people seeking treatment.

He is also asking everyone in B.C. to show their respect for health care workers by banging on pots and pans again Thursday evening at 7 p.m.

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