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Fighting for her life

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Local woman holding protest outside MPPs office

Cathy Dobson

Denise Wade and her oncologists are convinced a cancer-fighting drug she takes every day is shrinking her tumours and extending her life.

But when her private drug benefits plan expires in November, the monthly $9,981 cost will be unaffordable and the Ontario Ministry of Health says she doesn’t qualify for the drug under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

The government has rejected an application for coverage under the Exceptional Access Program (EAP), despite three attempts by her oncologist. Wade held out some hope that intervention from MPP Bob Bailey’s office might help but the application was rejected yet again last week.

Wade says it feels like the government is handing her a death sentence.

“There’s no compassion,” she says. “If someone is dying of cancer and there’s a drug out there that can help, and if that person doesn’t have the luxury of private benefits, why wouldn’t the government pay for them and save a life?”

Wade, 69, was employed at the St. Clair Township office in 2017 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 non-small cell cancer in her left lung. She was treated with four cycles of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation in Sarnia and London.

In 2018, she learned a different type of cancer had developed in her other lung. She began drug therapy.

Three years later, eight tumours were found in her brain. This time, a brain tumour specialist suggested she take Osimertinib, sold under the brand name Tagrisso. It’s a prescription drug used to treat Stage 4 non-small cell lung carcinomas with specific mutations.

“Tagrisso has done wonders for my cancer,” said Wade. “It is literally saving my life.”

She knows her cancer will not be cured but Tagrisso has few side effects and gives her a quality of life she believes isn’t possible otherwise.

“People say to me all the time that I don’t look like I have cancer.  My colour is good. They can’t believe it,” she said.

But her drug benefit plan that has been paying for Tagrisso, will expire this November. Wade said she has no choice but to fight for OHIP coverage for herself and anyone else who needs a pricey lifesaving drug that isn’t covered by OHIP.

“The government is kicking me in the teeth,” she said. “I’ve worked hard my entire life and I’ve never lived off the government.

“Now that I’m retired, I’m being denied even though the government has money to pay for other things that are not lifesaving. 

“I just don’t get it.”

Wade has the support of friends who are helping her mount an awareness campaign, including a protest outside Bob Bailey’s Christina Street office on August 23 (10 a.m. – noon) and a petition that’s been signed by nearly 15,000 people since Aug. 6 (

There’s also a Facebook page started by a friend called Denise’s Cancer Journey.

“People who hear my story are so angry,” said Wade. “The bottom line is that it’s all about money and where the government thinks our money should be spent.”

Bailey did not return The Journal’s calls by press time, but his legislative assistant Anthony Rizzetto said Tagrisso is approved by OHIP to cover only certain types of cancer. 

Wade said she understands from her oncologist that she is being denied because her cancer doesn’t have specific mutations.

Bailey’s office asked that the latest application was expedited and given a more thorough review, Rizzetto said. That happened and Wade quickly received her latest denial.

Bailey has been asked to intervene in similar situations related to lifesaving drugs for cystic fibrosis, Rizzetto said.

“It’s always complicated. An MPPS request always helps but these things are not simple,” he said. “Our office will try to bring it to (the ministry’s) attention if there’s anything that can be done.”

Wade said her oncologist, Dr. Even Lilly at Bluewater Health, told her last week that he’ll continue searching for an alternate drug, possibly a generic brand similar to Tagrisso.

She said Dr. Lilly also contacted Tagrisso’s manufacturer AstraZeneca on her behalf to ask for financial assistance and was denied.

“The government really needs to talk to big pharma and ask how it can justify charging $10,000 a month for 30 pills,” Wade said.

“But, really, cancer is cancer any way you look at it. If there is a way of treating it, why wouldn’t that be covered? 

“I would not be alive today if it weren’t for Tagrisso.”

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