I am asking for your help to support my sister, Vicki Smith, with the out-of-pocket costs she will be facing as part of her breast cancer treatment. When she first learned that she would require chemotherapy, Vicki decided to turn this into an opportunity to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Instead of waiting for the chemo to make her hair fall out, Vicki decided to shave her head and raise donations through the ACF's online donation system. She and her friends are planning a Canada Day party at which she will shave her head. I was overwhelmed by her strength and generosity at that difficult time, but all the more so now that we have learned Vicki's treatment will involve huge out-of-pocket costs that she cannot afford.
In May 2017, Vicki was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 34. It had already spread to nearby lymph nodes, although we are relieved to have learned that it does not appear to have spread beyond that. At the moment, it appears that her cancer is stage IIb.
Unfortunately, Vicki's breast cancer is of a type called triple-negative, meaning that it does not respond to hormone-related treatments such as Tamoxifen, and also tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. When young women such as Vicki develop breast cancer, it is most often this type.
Vicki will eventually require surgery (mastectomy and removal of surrounding lymph nodes), and likely radiation treatment after that. However, the financial hardship she will be facing will mostly occur during the first stage of her treatment - chemo. In Canada, we often assume that our provincial health plans (in this case Alberta Health coverage) will pay for all of the necessary treatments associated with devastating illnesses such as cancer. Unfortunately, as we have learned at Vicki's first Oncology appointment, this is not necessarily the case.
The cost of the chemo drugs themselves will be covered by Alberta Health. As most people are well aware, chemotherapy tends to suppress the immune system, making a person unusually susceptible to potentially life-threatening infections. Modern medicine has a way to help combat this risk, by giving an injection the day after each chemo treatment, of a drug (generically known as GCSF) that helps to prevent the white blood cells from dropping to dangerously low levels. This drug has been in use for many years, so it is not new or experimental. Vicki's oncologist has recommended that she receive a dose of this medication the day after each of her chemo treatments.
At first glance, this sounds like a fantastic plan. Unfortunately, the drug costs approximately $2700 per dose, and it is not covered by Alberta Health! Since Vicki has an aggressive form of cancer, her oncologist plans to give her 16 doses of chemo over a 20-week period. She will require a dose of the immune-supporting drug after each of those 16 chemo treatments. Each dose will cost more than what Medical EI pays in an entire month (never mind the fact that living expenses such as rent and groceries don't disappear just because someone is undergoing cancer treatment), and Vicki will be needing this medication on a near-weekly basis.
We often hear stories about people struggling to pay for the expensive parking at hospitals, anti-nausea medications during chemo, etc. What seems to be less well-publicized is the fact that some cancer patients are being asked to pay out-of-pocket for incredibly expensive drugs that their oncologists consider to be a vital part of their treatment plan. In a country that prides itself on offering universal, publicly-funded health care, it has been a harsh wake-up call for our family to learn that there are cancer patients being made to shoulder a huge financial burden in order to receive standard treatment for their cancer.
The financial aspect of this journey is actually causing Vicki far more stress than the anticipated side effects of the chemo treatments. This is why I am asking for your help to cover the cost of her chemo-related treatments. Every dollar will make a difference, so please consider donating to this fund, and please also share Vicki's story with your friends and family.