Chilliwack's Hal Singleton

Chilliwack's Hal Singleton

Chilliwack cancer victim advocates for better colon cancer screening

Chilliwack resident Hal Singleton, who's dying of colon cancer, believes had he been offered early screening, his outcome would be better.

In Chilliwack, Hal Singleton is best known for his background in the military and politics.

At the Abbotsford Cancer Clinic, he’s known as the unlucky one.

The one who went misdiagnosed until it was too late.

The one who has advanced-stage colon cancer.

The one who, doctors have assured, will die.

Still, Singleton refuses to go gentle into that goodnight.

The 69-year-old is furious with the death sentence and believes he could have had a chance – if only better medical systems were in place.

‘THAT’S WHAT SUCKS’

Singleton started experiencing abdominal and liver pains, and was losing weight, in the summer of 2010, all of which he said his doctor didn’t pay attention to.

When he required a physical before going to Pakistan in September of that year, his ailments again weren’t checked.

And when he came home complaining of severe abdominal and liver pains, he felt he was given the brush-off.

He said it was never once suggested that he get an early screening fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or colonoscopy, despite being in the high-risk category for colorectal cancer.

With early detection, there’s a 90 per cent survival rate.

“This is a highly treatable cancer and the doctor missed it, he completely missed it,” Singleton told The Progress. “For 17 years, from the time I was 50 to 67, there was no colonoscopy. That’s what sucks.”

It wasn’t until Singleton got a second opinion that he was finally sent for an ultrasound and, later, a colonoscopy.

The results showed colon cancer that had spread to his liver — so bad was it that the oncologist described his colon as an angry volcano ready to blow.

He was given two to three years.

“I went from being an athlete to something pretty close to a couch potato,” he said. “I played hockey, I golfed, I could run up Teapot in 25 minutes, and all of a sudden that’s all been taken away from me. I can’t get it back. I lost 25 pounds, I became weak, my life crashed right smack there.

“Colon cancer is a total thief in the night.”

PROGRAM NEEDED

Last month NDP leader Adrian Dix was in Chilliwack pressuring the B.C. government to roll out a province-wide screening program for colorectal cancer.

This cancer, which isn’t widely discussed, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada.

This year alone, approximately 3,000 in B.C. will be diagnosed, and 1,100 will die.

And yet, with early detection, it has a 90 per cent survival rate.

While the province has had an early screening pilot program in select communities since 2009, which has completed more than 15,000 FOBT screens and identified 46 cancers, Dix said it’s high time a province-wide program is implemented.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told the The Progress the government is currently working with the B.C. Cancer Agency and the Provincial Health Services Authority to determine if it would be beneficial to expand the program across B.C.

She also noted everyone in B.C. has access to colorectal cancer screening through their doctor’s office.

But for Singleton, that’s not good enough.

The retired military engineer, who ran for federal office twice under the Liberal banner, said if people don’t know about colon cancer or their screening options, they’re not going to request them.

“The system is completely backwards, it’s broken” Singleton said. “The costs of treatment by far outweigh the costs of prevention. The money being spent on pharmaceuticals, oncologists, nurses is astronomical.”

According to a 2002 Health Canada report, the annual costs of cancer is $14.2 billion.

“The nurses [in the cancer clinic] have told me the biggest single reason people are there is because of misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis,” said Singleton. “GPs are at the core of the medical process, your health rests on their shoulders, and if they don’t have the tools necessary, we’re just going to keep filling the cancer chairs.

“The system needs to be fixed.”

‘THE UNLUCKY ONE’

Even if the system is fixed, even if Dix comes to power and immediately implements a province-wide program, it will be too late for Singleton.

For 21 months, he has been sentenced to a cancer clinic chair for four hours every two weeks; he has a catheter inserted in his chest to self-administer chemo at home; has ingested dozens of drugs; and has suffered chemotherapy side effects that have included a severe sensitivity to hot and cold, thinning of his fingernails and extreme eczema.

He has undergone 43 chemo treatments, amounting to 2,300 hours in the chair, has gone through all five of the chemotherapy cocktails available and is back on cocktail number one.

Two months ago, he was given 11 more months.

“I got the short end of the straw,” he said. “I’m the unlucky one.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

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