03/03/2014 20:35 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. NDP pushes for childhood cancer survivor treatment centre

The B.C. New Democrats are pushing the provincial government to establish a specialized treatment centre for childhood cancer survivors. 

Opposition health critic Judy Darcy tabled a motion at the B.C. legislature Monday morning calling on all parties to support the creation of a clinic that would focus on addressing the late effects of childhood cancer treatment.

"We don't even have a registry in British Columbia today, much less an intensive systematic screening process for childhood cancer survivors, despite the fact that medical science now knows what they didn't know 10, 20, 30 years ago about the late effects of childhood cancer treatment," said Darcy.

"Not only that, when these young people turned 19, they age out of children's hospital and they and their families are most often left to navigate a very, very complicated health care system on their own ... without many of them understanding that the conditions they're experiencing are about the late effects of early childhood cancer treatment." 

Varied late effects of childhood cancer

Darcy was joined by several childhood cancer survivors and their families, some of whom shared their experiences of dealing with the life-altering effects of treatment years later. 

Heather Merrett had cancer in 1987 when she was four years old. 

"That was very devastating for me. ... I had to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to feed myself, how to do everything all by myself," said Merrett.

Today, Merrett can stand, but not without shaking. Her balance is poor, and she cannot walk very quickly. Her voice shakes too, and much of her face is numb.

Merrett and her mother, Marilyn Merrett, say they have not had enough help from the medical system. 

"We need one place where all those answers will be, so you can go and have a one stop shop," said Marilyn Merrett.

The Merretts were not alone.

Other childhood cancer survivors and their families have been left to deal with blindness, cognitive disabilities, fertility issues, heart disease, organ failure, and secondary cancers — among other serious issues — as a result of early cancer treatment. 

"The effects of a five-year-old brain, for example, is much more devastating than that of a 70-year-old," said Carolyn Vacheresse with the Pediatric Cancers Childhood Survivorship Society of B.C.

The former childhood cancer patients and their families hope a new treatment centre can provide long-term care and answers to their questions.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said the province is working with families to find out what is needed, but will not promise the specialized treatment centre just yet. 

"We're very empathetic to survivors of any cancer, but particularly childhood cancers," said Lake.

"This maybe something that needs to be addressed, but i don't want to make committee until we've had those discussions."