Imagine this, if you will.
It’s the bustle of the Christmas season… little children have eyes aglow in wonderment, spouses are thinking about what ‘treat’ would delight each other. Grandparents are tugging little ones down to the lakeshore to walk through the fabulous lights. Life is good.
Last week Jacki Marchildon lay on a bed at RVH, getting a blood transfusion.
Beside her on another bed was a man, also getting a blood transfusion. He is suffering from colon cancer. He is also receiving medication called Avastin which is doing battle on his behalf. This expensive medication is covered by his medical insurance plan.
Jacki Marchildon also has cancer. For a decade now, since she was 44, she has been submitting her body to every kind of treatment to hold cancer at bay. Chemotherapy three times in one year, radiation, drugs… an experimental trial introduced her body to Avastin. And her body reacted positively. Her stomach shrank. Her pain subsided. The nausea, swelling, heat, rashes, dehydration all subsided. She could walk by herself to the bathroom. While her cancer didn’t go away, Avastin gave Jacki a life.
Sounds good, doesn it? Not great, but good.
Except, Jacki’s medical insurer, having approved her to cover this expensive drug, has reneged and billed her enormous amounts of money. At $2500 per treatment every two weeks, it doesn’t take long before one’s house is on the block.
Jacki has the wrong kind of cancer.
This drug is approved by medical insurers for colon cancer.
It is not approved for ovarian cancer.
And, for an entire decade, Jacki Marchildon has been living with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer of women. That’s because it presents itself with backaches, abdominal swelling, fatigue. Women live with these kinds of discomfort on a regular basis, so it’s easy to ignore the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Yet in Canada, the stats tell us that 2400 women will be diagnosed this year. Half will die. If ovarian cancer is detected early, survival is 95%.
Jacki Marchildon feels she is long past survival. But for her, the reality of life lasting very long is grim. The drug that is suppressing her symptoms and holding back the progress of her disease is on a shelf in a medicine cabinet. The cabinet will open only for a certain type of cancer victim. But not for Jacki.
As we talked about her horrible situation, her dreams of being involved in the lives of her daughters and her grandchildren… her commitment to her mother… Jacki aches to hold on to the life that is currently hers.
Who holds the file? Whose pen can stroke across a page and make it possible for an insurance company to cover the same drug for more than one person? Is it the provincial government? It is the vast, complicated medical community? Is it the insurance industry? Is it the developer of the drug, Roche, who has the power? Is there one person who can take this issue and make it matter? It will certainly matter to Jacki.
And her grandchildren.