In the mid-1980s, CancerCare Manitoba established approximately one dozen outreach chemotherapy centres, scattering them throughout the province. Over four decades those centres have evolved into regional Cancer Care hubs. 

One of those outreach chemotherapy centres was established in Morden at the old Morden Hospital.

"In Morden, we had a small room, and a small exam room associated with that," explained Dr Cornelius Woelk, Medical Director of the Cancer Care Unit at Boundary Trails Health Centre (BTHC).

"Then when we moved here (BTHC), it expanded a little bit, but we probably weren't prepared for the number of patients that had expanded too."

Cancer Care outreach centres began just before Dr Woelk arrived in Winkler, working out of the CW Wiebe Medical Centre. 

"I arrived in Winkler in 1988 and started with the Cancer Care program later that year. But the actual programs began a few years earlier than that. Dr. Bob Menzies was very involved in the start-up, and I joined him and others along the way."

Dr. Woelk said when BTHC was initially built, one exam room was in the plans for the Cancer Care unit.

"We said 'no, no. We have to have more.' So they converted a storage room into an exam room. Then approximately ten or fifteen years ago, we expanded into the area we're (the interview) standing in. It is one of our two exam rooms. We enlarged the treatment area but now can't go any larger."

At BTHC's Cancer Care unit, Dr Woelk says they spend much of their time seeing patients being treated for cancer. And, cancer treatment has changed a lot over the years, Woelk added.

"People think, oh it's chemotherapy. But nowadays we use hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Many of those treatments can happen right here locally, and people like that. There are still some very intensive treatments that have to go to Winnipeg, but lots of the treatments can happen locally and it saves lots and lots of trips to the city." 

Southern Health-Santé Sud has three Cancer Care hubs. They are at Boundary Trails Health Centre, Portage District General Hospital, and at Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach.

"People come from approximately up to an hour away, but that's still closer for them than going to Winnipeg for their treatments if you think about the patients coming from further west for example," said Dr. Woelk. "All of our patients are within Southern Health (Santé Sud). They come from as far West as Crystal City. And generally, if we're talking towards the east, there's another Cancer Care hub in Steinbach and another one in Portage. So some of them (patients) may drift more into those directions depending on their distance from places." 

Is there more cancer around?  That is a question Dr. Woelk said he is commonly asked.

"The truth is, the incidence of cancer, so that would be the number of new cases of cancer, are stable or perhaps even decreasing a little when you adjust it for age." 

Woelk said because our population is ageing, we are seeing more cases. "But overall it sounds like the incidents have stabilized and may be coming down a little."  

"But the prevalence, in other words, the number of people with cancer, has increased a lot," noted Woelk. "And that's because we're able to treat people's cancer and be more effective at it. So people will be cured of their cancer more often and their lives will be prolonged in a meaningful way with the treatments." 

"I want to remind people about Cancer Navigation," Woelk added. "When people have a diagnosis or a suspected diagnosis of early cancer and they're waiting to see a specialist, our cancer navigation nurses and social worker are very effective in providing support and trying to get them there as quickly as possible, in the smoothest way possible," shared Woelk.

Cancer Navigation happens in another part of the hospital, said Woelk, and will be moving into the Community Services building, currently under construction.

"I'm really excited. Anybody driving by the Boundary Trails Health Centre will notice all the cranes and the buildings coming up. And the one that's not very visible yet, except for an elevator shaft, is just to the north and that's the Community Services building where a lot of the administrative staff will move into."

Once the hospital's administrative unit moves into the Community Services building, BTHC's existing Cancer Centre unit will move into part of that first-floor space. Woelk anticipates that would likely happen in the next few years.

The Community Services building will also house a new "cancer centre of hope." Woelk said the Cancer Centre of Hope will focus on things other than treatment. "Some psychosocial support, and maybe a place to sit down, put one's feet up, and talk. We're to see that develop over time, and how it will look, is still to be determined."