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Patients concerned about future of lymphedema clinic in Montreal

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There is confusion and ample amounts of concern about the future of the lymphedema clinic at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal.

Patients and advocates say the clinic is an essential service and needs to be maintained.

Lymphedema is a form of chronic swelling that can occur after cancer treatment.

"In Quebec, 75,000 Quebecers do have lymphedema caused by cancer treatment," said strategic support and communications director Anne-Marie Joncas at the Lymphedema Association of Quebec.

When the lymph nodes are damaged or removed during cancer treatment, fluid can build up in the body, causing pain and sometimes infection.

"For me, it was mostly in the elbow where it was just so swollen that it would ache at night," said lymphedema patient Victoria Hamilton.

Hamilton was diagnosed with lymphedema about a year after finishing breast cancer treatment. She said that without the expert care she received at the MUHC's lymphedema clinic, she doesn't know how she would have managed the chronic illness on her own.

"They're the best in Canada," she said. "Their understanding of lymphedema is incredible."

Patients and advocates are concerned about the future of the clinic, which is currently funded by charities like the Cedars Cancer Foundation.

The MUHC wants the government to pay and the clinic was informed in February that funding from Cedars would end on April 1.

"We are looking at consolidating the resources and expertise of the lymphedema program to provide the most efficient and best quality of care within the possibilities available to us. We will approach the ministry at a later date," the MUHC said in a statement.

"Looking for the minister of health to help to integrate lymphedema treatment as a basic care in the hospital budget is a great idea," said Joncas. "It would be a first, and we would be very happy about that. Now we have to help these patients during the transition period."

The Quebec Health Ministry did not respond to a CTV News request for comment.

Cedars said it will extend its funding for at least another year while the MUHC puts its proposal together.

"At this point, we're we're pleased to continue funding the MUHC Lymphedema Clinic from April 1 on for one year while the hospital, while the MUHC reevaluates and looks at sustainable funding," said Cedars Foundation president and CEO Jeff Shamie.

There is currently a six-month waiting list to get into the clinic.  

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