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September 17th 2009, 4:31pm

I am a proud Canadian, and I defend our health care system with the kind of lunatic ferocity that cowers tea-partying town hall hecklers – and yet today at the hospital I actually turned to my husband and uttered the words “Thank God you have such great insurance.”

Blasphemy, I know.

But we went in for my treatment this morning only to find out that the targeted therapy (Lapanitib, aka Tykerb) and the chemo that must be taken in conjunction with it (Capecitabine, aka Xeloda) are not covered by OHIP.  Yes, I am serious.  No, I have no idea why not. This is breast cancer for god’s sake, not breast augmentation.

We were told the approval process for assisted coverage could take several days, which would mean a fourth consecutive week without any treatment whatsoever.  All I could think of was how much my cancer managed to spread in the six-week period between CT scans while I was getting the clinical trial drug + Herceptin combo.  No cancer-fighting agents whatsoever for four weeks?? And this squeaky-toy cough of mine worsening all the time? You could say I was a little freaked out.

We were in fact wild-eyed and confused, and the telephone calls were flying fast and furious between the drug company case managers, the hospital social worker,  my husband, and his (really, incredibly helpful) insurance people. Being Canadian, I spent none of my time trying to figure out who should be blamed, sued and/or fired for this additional delay in my treatment, and all of my time trying to figure out how to fix it. While also freaking out.

Luckily, all parties seemed hell-bent on achieving the same goal – namely, getting me the treatment, stat – and as a result, the drugs are being delivered to my home tonight.  The total cost to us after the 90% coverage of my husband’s excellent drug plan & the drug companies’ “compassionate coverage” plans is still a few hundred dollars a month, but this is ok compared to the several thousand a month we were facing at around 10 a.m. this morning.  And I should note that even if we didn’t have an insurance plan, there are systems in place to ensure no patient is denied treatment — it just takes a few days.

Still, this experience has shaved a little smugness off my pride in our universal health care system, and has shaken my confidence that I will always have timely and free access to the treatments I need.  This confidence, really, that is every Canadian child’s birthright, every Canadian immigrant’s landing-right, and should be everyone’s human right too.

So our system isn’t perfect, but I haven’t given up the faith completely: I have access to treatment today and we didn’t have to sell the house to get it. That’s an outcome I can live with. Literally.

Advocacy is nothing new to Rethink. In 2011, Jill Anzaurt wasn’t able to gain access to the drug Herceptin, a potentially life-saving but expensive targeted treatment that can help patients with aggressive HER-2+ breast cancer, because her tumour was deemed too small to treat. Rethink worked with Jill, a brave and determined young mother of two, and launched a letter writing campaign to the Ontario Minister of Health, which spread like wildfire! Jill’s powerful story coupled with the advocacy efforts of Rethink and other breast cancer organizations played a major role in the announcement of Cancer Care Ontario’s Evidence-Building Program, which approved OHIP coverage of Herceptin for eligible patients with HER2 positive breast cancer and tumours of all sizes.


Fast forward to 2016 and Rethink is stirring the pot again by putting young women at the center of making changes to improve the lives of all women.

Currently in Ontario there is a 1-2 year wait time for breast reconstruction. Yes, you heard me 1-2 YEARS until women can feel like they can move forward from their breast cancer! Unacceptable? We think so too.

Timely access to breast reconstruction is an important issue for Rethink specifically because younger women are more likely to opt for preventative surgeries and reconstruction and rates of mastectomy in women younger than 40 are rising quickly.

On October 19th Rethink Breast Cancer descended on Queen’s Park to advocate for women affected by breast cancer.

Breast reconstruction wait times was on the Question Period agenda that day and we were psyched to hear the Minster of Health acknowledge that it is “unacceptable” for women to be waiting that long for breast reconstruction. We agree!

“it is unacceptably long for women who have to go through this traumatic physical and mental procedure—the challenges that they’re facing. We’re obligated to make sure that we’re providing a better system and better support for them, and we’re making the changes to deliver just that.” Honourable Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health, Ontario

We need your help to ensure the Minister stands by his word and commits to truly reducing the wait times for breast reconstruction.  We are calling on the Minister of Health to Increase surgical resources in the province (like Operating Room time) to benefit all patients looking to access breast reconstruction.

Like in 2011, let your voice be heard by joining our letter writing campaign to the Minister of Health and be part of the change HERE.

Want to get involved with more advocacy initiatives? Join our movement here.

What makes cannabis medicinal? Why is it different from the marijuana people use recreationally? How does medical cannabis actually work as “medicine” to help alleviate side-effects of cancer treatment and array of other symptoms from other diseases. These are some of the questions that many young women facing a breast cancer ask and we want to get you the answers.

Here is how it works:

Cannabinoids (e.g., THC and CBD) are the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers that provide relief to an array of symptoms including pain, nausea, and inflammation. These work their medicinal magic by imitating compounds our bodies naturally produce, called endocannabinoids, which activate to maintain internal stability and health.

Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment.

Humans and animals alike naturally synthesize endocannabinoids, chemical compounds that activate the same receptors as cannabinoids found in cannabis.

When cannabis is consumed, cannabinoids bind to receptor sites throughout our brain (receptors called CB-1) and body (CB-2). Different cannabinoids have different effects depending on which receptors they bind to. This concept is the cornerstone of cannabis as medicine.

Cannabis contains at least 85 types of cannabinoids, many of which have documented medical value. Different products and strains have been developed to deliver varying doses of cannabinoids (e.g. THC 0-0.7%/ CBD 14-16%) to alleviate different symptoms.

Governments in various regions allow people with medical conditions access to marijuana for medical reasons with a prescription: this is called medical marijuana or medical cannabis.

Read the Canadian government’s guidelines for medical marijuana here!

How it can benefit cancer patients:

Cannabis has analgesic (pain reducing) and anti-inflammatory properties which may be used in the management of symptoms and side effects for cancer treatment. Some people with cancer may find using medical marijuana or drugs that contain cannabinoids helps them cope with symptoms and side effects including:

  • Nausea and vomiting – Several studies have shown that some cannabinoids can relieve nausea, vomiting or both. These are side effects of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Loss of appetite – Loss of appetite is a common problem for people with cancer. Loss of appetite and weight loss (which is called cachexia when it is severe) often occur together. Some people find that medical marijuana can help increase their appetite.
  • Pain – Some patients claim that medical marijuana can help relieve long-term (chronic) or severe pain and have an analgesic affect.
  • Sleep – Some people claim that certain strain strains of cannabis, especially those with higher levels of THC, help promote drowsiness and sleep.
  • Palliative Care – Growing evidence suggests that the use of cannabis in palliative patients may help control the symptoms as mentioned above. The use of cannabinoids in this population may also reduce the use of other pain medications often prescribed in the opioid family.
  • Medical marijuana has also been used for management in the following:
    • Migraines
    • Anxiety
    • Inflammation
    • Some neurological disorders

Stay tuned for more blogs and videos on how to access medical marijuana and you can access our archive of all stories HERE.

For more information on medical cannabis from Health Canada click here!

I was diagnosed with stage 1 invasive breast cancer in July 2015. Although I was devastated with this diagnosis, I was pleased to find out that I was a candidate for the Oncotype DX test due to the characteristics of my tumour.

The Oncotype DX test determines the likelihood of cancer recurrence and whether or not the risks of chemotherapy would outweigh the benefits for a particular individual. I was shocked and very disappointed to find out that Nova Scotia’s MSI program does not currently cover the Oncotype DX test, despite the fact that research has shown it to be a very effective test and many other Canadian provinces do cover the cost of this important test.

I believe that Nova Scotians deserve to have the Oncotype DX test done if their oncologist feels that they could benefit from it. I did end up having the Oncotype DX test done and it definitely changed the course of my treatment for the better. I received a low score on the test which meant that I would NOT benefit from having chemotherapy. As you could imagine, this was a huge relief for both myself and my family.

I am a mother of 2 young children and if I were to have unnecessarily undergone chemotherapy it would have negatively impacted both my family and society as a whole as I would have been unable to work for the last 6 months. As it turned out, I was only off work for 3-4 weeks.

I believe the cost of the Oncotype DX test would pay for itself several times over in savings from unnecessary medical expenses, as well as increased tax revenues from patients being able to quickly return to work, as I did. Chemotherapy is toxic and has many side effects that often lead to future health problems which would put financial strains on the Nova Scotia health care system in the years to come.

In addition, I saw my oncologist in November and he discharged me from his care since I did not end up needing chemotherapy. Thus, freeing up the healthcare system for people that need it and saving MSI money, as I no longer need oncology followup appointments since I did not have chemotherapy.

I think that the Nova Scotia government needs to realize that the Oncotype DX test can save the province significant amounts of money in the long run not to mention the mental and physical anguish it can save breast cancer patients. I am very thankful that I had the Oncotype DX test and feel that other Nova Scotians deserve the opportunity to be spared the toxic effects of chemotherapy which in turn will also save the province money rather than being a penny wise and a pound foolish.


Sarah (a breast cancer survivor)

Want to help our campaign to fund Oncotype Dx in Nova Scotia? Share this post, send a tweet, send a letter and let’s make this happen!