11/13/2013 07:41 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Thoracic cancer town hall draws hundreds of protesters

Hundreds have rallied behind Windsor Regional Hospital's decision to defy orders to stop performing certain cancer surgeries.

In a written statement, the hospital said it will continue to provide thoracic cancer operations.

Cancer Care Ontario asked the hospital earlier this year to stop performing the surgery by March of next year and send patients to London for the procedure.

Dr. Michael Coughlin is a long-time thoracic surgeon in Windsor. He agrees the hospital keep providing this service.

"I don't think there's any personal liability for me, I'm a trained thoracic surgeon, I'm certified, I don't think there's any question of my competence here," he said.

The hospital has been fighting to maintain the thoracic services for the past three years.

More than 300 people at an town hall meeting at the Vollmer Complex in LaSalle on Tuesday night.

Dozens stepped up to the mic to share their personal stories.

Pearl Girard was one of them.

Girard had thoracic surgery in Windsor already. She now worries she would have to go on the road if she needs another one.

"My husband died from cancer three years ago, so this is hard, and if I have to go to London, my kids are just average working people, mostly for minimum wage, trying to meet ends for their families. They can't get the time off with pay to be in London with me. So I would be alone," she said.

Girard also had her CT scans and prep work done in Windsor.

"My family could be there for me," Girard said through tears. "I'm scared because I don't know if I'm out of the woods yet.

"I'm still seeing Dr. Coughlin and he is one of the best. So thank you," Girard said before a round of applause.

The number of attendees "amazed" Coughlin.

"It's a very volatile topic. Someone who has lung or esophageal cancer is going through hell," Coughlin said.

Cancer Care Ontario has ordered the hospital to stop the procedures, or it will cut funding for all cancer surgeries performed in Windsor.

"I'll continue to perform the surgeries as long as I can, until I'm told not to," Coughlin said.