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Undiagnosed cancer
Man lived with cancer for 18 months before disease discovered

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Northwest Territories man is asking why it took 18 months of repeated health centre and hospital visits before he was finally diagnosed with cancer.

NNSL photo/graphic

Wilfred Lennie Jr., 33, was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer after spending 18 months trying to determine the cause of his stomach pain. A Gofundme campaign has been set up to raise money for his family. - photo courtesy of Wilfred Lennie Jr.

Wilfred Lennie Jr., 33, had been suffering from stomach pain when he visited the Marie Adele Bishop Health Centre in Behchoko for the first time. He was told he had problems with his esophagus and was prescribed pills before being sent home.

But the pain only worsened.

"I'd been going back and forth for months," he said. "But all this time it was cancer that was bothering me."

Lennie Jr. said he was medevacced to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife where he told health care staff about his chronic stomach problems.

"There's something wrong with me, I've been throwing up blood, not feeling good and this pain is getting worse," he said. "They just kind of just gave me pills and released me."

After being medevacced to Yellowknife again, Lennie Jr. was given an endoscopy, a procedure where a long, thin tube attached to a video camera is inserted into the stomach.

Three weeks ago, he was told he had stomach cancer.

"I asked the one doctor if there is any way they can cure it or get it cut out or anything, and she said she doesn't know," he said. "'We can try', she told me. That's what kind of scared me."

Lennie Jr. has no idea how far his cancer has progressed or whether it has spread to other parts of his body.

He is scheduled to travel to Edmonton, Alta. next week to meet with cancer specialists.

In the meantime, he's taking medication to try and keep the cancer from growing.

Lennie Jr. is the father of four young children and said he's only been able to return home once since arriving in Yellowknife weeks ago.

Wilfred Lennie Sr., Lennie Jr.'s father, said he can't understand how it could have taken 18 months before his son was diagnosed with cancer.

"Why didn't they check inside his stomach right away to find out what was really wrong with him? It didn't happen until the last minute and then they found out he had cancer," he said.

"The system, I guess, it's killing our people."

Lennie Jr.'s mother, Sarah, was able to secure a plane ticket through the Tulita Land Corporation to be with Lennie Jr. in Yellowknife. She said her son was almost unrecognizable.

"He don't look like my son, really skinny," she said. "It just hurt me so much."

Lennie Sr. said he's disappointed with the lack of support for families of cancer sufferers.

While the family is grateful Sarah was able to travel to Yellowknife, Lennie Sr. said other members of the family want to be with Lennie Jr. to provide support and help Sarah.

But the airfare is just too expensive, he said. A return flight from Tulita to Yellowknife is nearly $1,700.

"I wanted to be with my son too, to give him support, but we just can't afford to fly over there," he said. "It's pretty expensive when you're a pensioner. All of us wanted to go to be by his side and give him support, we just can't afford it."

On top of their other worries, Sarah said the family is concerned about his four young children with Lennie Jr. unable to work.

"I don't know how they're going to survive," she said. "He's having a hard time."

A Gofundme campaign has been set up to try to raise $5,000, which will help with travel and living expenses while Lennie Jr. is away from home in Yellowknife and Edmonton.

Lennie Jr. said it's been especially hard not knowing when he will see his children again. He said he hopes to bring the family to Yellowknife when he's able to return from Edmonton, but there just isn't enough room where he and his mother are currently staying. He said he hopes to find other accommodations for the visit.

"That would be nice because we don't really have a place to stay for my family here," he said.

The campaign had raised $1,480 as of press time on Dec. 1.

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