Hear from the ‘hopeless, overwhelmed, scared’ cancer patient who called out the N.S. premier

Ryan Flanagan, CTVNews.ca with a report from CTV Atlantic’s Bruce Frisko
Published Tuesday, April 30, 2019 6:24PM EDT

A cancer patient who issued a tearful plea daring the premier of Nova Scotia to tell her the province isn’t in the midst of a health-care crisis says she’s grateful for the support she’s received from friends and complete strangers.

Inez Rudderham told CTV Atlantic Tuesday that she has received significant support since she posted her now-viral video to Facebook last week, including Premier Stephen McNeil taking her up on her challenge by scheduling a meeting.

Her first reaction to the video’s success was very different. As she watched the view count near 75,000, Rudderham thought about pulling it down in order to keep herself and her family out of the spotlight. She was talked out of that idea by a friend who convinced her she had a message that needed to be heard. The video is now sitting at more than four million views — more than four times the population of Nova Scotia.

“I think when people watched the video and saw the vulnerability … I think people could relate to that,” Rudderham said.

“I think that touched people, because we’ve all had moments in our lives where we felt like that – hopeless, overwhelmed, scared, fearful.”

The state of Nova Scotia’s health-care system has been a major issue in the province all year, due to issues including doctor shortages and clinic closures. Rudderham’s video brought those arguments into sharp focus.

Rudderham says the video was an instinctive response to seeing a ‘for sale’ sign go up outside her house. She and her former partner had to sell the house after Rudderham’s battle with cancer left her unable to work.

“I think it was a combination of hearing peoples’ cries and reading news reports about [McNeil] saying there is no crisis,” Rudderham said.

“In that moment, I just went right for it.”

‘BROKENNESS’ IN THE SYSTEM

Rudderham’s cancer journey began over a year ago with hemorrhoid-like symptoms and lethargy – something unusual for a healthy, active young mother.

“I was exhausted all the time. I would sleep 12, 13 hours and get up and feel like I was hung over and got hit by a train,” she said.

Three trips to the emergency room failed to provide an explanation for her condition, even as her symptoms worsened. During one visit, she felt doctors were ignoring her concerns altogether by suggesting she seek mental health help.

Finally, last May, in a last-ditch effort, Rudderham returned to the hospital adamant that she would not leave until she was given a rectal exam. The doctor she saw on this visit agreed that something wasn’t right, and ordered an endoscopy. Two weeks after that, she was told that she had Stage 3 anal cancer.

She has since undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and now sometimes loses feeling in her hands and feet.

“Every time I wake up, I don’t really know what I’m going to face,” she said.

Rudderham isn’t angry with the doctors she saw during her first hospital visits for what she went through. Anal cancer is uncommon in young adults. It isn’t something she would have expected them to have in mind when dealing with her.

“They were doing the very best with what they had, but it’s very clear to me that there’s a brokenness within that,” she said.

Making matters worse, Rudderham was without a family doctor at the time of her diagnosis, because her last doctor had moved 50 kilometres away.

Now stopped in the street by strangers who recognize her from the video and want to thank her for speaking up, Rudderham hopes she’ll be able to meet with McNeil next month and find out how he plans to prevent other Nova Scotians from facing similar frustrations.