Ashley McDonald and Karen McLaren attended the same school – Terry Fox Secondary School – in Port Coquitlam, B.C. and worked at the same restaurant – Milestones – in their early 20’s, but that’s not all they have in common.
Both women were diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoing mastectomies and grueling rounds of chemotherapy at a young age.
They both thought they had beaten cancer, for it to reappear years later in different parts of their bodies. This is where their stories diverge.
McDonald, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada receives medical coverage through a major American airline which she works for. This covers the cost of a drug called Ibrance, which put her into remission.
She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2012, decided to have a double mastectomy and three months chemotherapy. This was considered to be the best case scenario with little chance that the cancer would ever come back.
However, 4 years later, she learned that her cancer had metastasized and was considered stage 4, aggressively invading her organs.
After 24 rounds of chemotherapy (in a 3 month period) and being put on a drug called Ibrance, her tumour had shunk to half the size. 4 months later she was back in remission.
McLaren, who has extended Canadian medical coverage (Manulife) through her husbands work has run out of treatment options. Her body is no longer responding to chemotherapy.
McLaren who was diagnosed in December 2004 has battled cancer for 13 years. She underwent a mastectomy on her right side, along with multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
10 years after being diagnosed, McLaren discovered her cancer had also metastasized, and was now present in her right lung. by December 2017, it had spread to her liver.
When she learned she was out of options, McLarens oncologist told her about Ibrance (the same drug that saved McDonald) but it was not covered in B.C. It would cost a whopping $8000 every 3 weeks, out of pocket.
McLaren sees no other choice than to try the drug that saved her friend… even if it means selling her house to afford it.
She does not have the same coverage McDonald does for the drug that saved McDonald – because she is Canadian. Ibrance isn’t on the list of drugs covered in Canada by BC PharmaCare, the program that helps B.C. residents with the cost of eligible prescription drugs. It is also not covered anywhere else in the provincial Medical Services Plan.
B.C. was once known as the gold standard for cancer treatment in the country, but the friends cases challenge that theory.