By continuing to use our site, you consent to the processing of cookies, user data (location information, type and version of the OS, the type and version of the browser, the type of device and the resolution of its screen, the source of where the user came from, from which site or for what advertisement, language OS and Browser, which pages are opened and to which buttons the user presses, ip-address) for the purpose of site functioning, retargeting and statistical surveys and reviews. If you do not want your data to be processed, please leave the site.

The Voice of People With Breast Cancer


Our Voices Blog

Fighting for life-saving metastatic drug access

By Jacquie Shand

I was born and raised in Southern Alberta and moved to Calgary to attend university and eventually raise my family here.  I am an active senior who enjoys singing with a Calgary performing group, travelling with my husband, watching sports and movies on TV, spending time with my two daughters, who both live in Calgary, keeping in touch with my granddaughter, who now lives in Victoria, and watching my grandson grow up and enjoy his activities.

In 2004, I had breast cancer.  I had surgery for a lumpectomy, which ended up in removing nearly half of one breast (plus all lymph nodes).  I had 16 radiation treatments and everything seemed fine for years.

In the spring of 2015, I began to have problems with my left hip joint.  I took some pain pills and seemed to be able to walk and manage, so I didn’t really worry a lot about it.  Then it began to hurt more, and I had to start using a cane to walk.  Finally, my doctor put me on the waiting list for the Alberta Hip and Knee Clinic.  He said I would also require an MRI, so I was put on that waiting list, also.  The next day my husband said we were not going to wait, so we booked an MRI at the Mayfair Diagnostic Centre and paid the full price for it.  From that came the diagnosis of what was really going on in my hip: metastatic breast cancer. (This was September 2015.)  Within a week, I was set up to meet my two new oncologists and have more tests and scans: total body bone scan, CT scan, blood work, etc.  These tests showed the medical team that I had several areas with metastatic breast cancer in my bones as well as lung and liver.

I started taking letrozole with no luck, then chemotherapy pills, which caused severe burning sensations in the palms of my hands and the bottoms of my feet.  I had more radiation—on my spine, my right arm, and hip.  I met with a surgeon who specializes in hip replacement for patients like me and had total hip replacement on my left hip (January 2016).

In June 2016, we found I had a small tumour behind my left eye, so back I want for ten more radiation treatments on that area.  (They did help and my vision came back to normal after a few months.)

By August 2016, my oncologist started me on two pills that were fairly new at that time, but already available in Canada at no charge at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.  They were called everolimus and examestane.  Within a week or two on these new pills, I felt so much better that it was unbelievable to me – I had little or no pain in any of the cancer areas and could walk much better and feel like I was almost normal again.  These pills and the healthy feeling lasted for just over a year. 

My scans and tests in July 2017 showed that the “fence” that the two “E” pills had built against cancer was not working well anymore.  The cancer cells were “jumping that fence” and spreading again.  I had to stop the two “E” pills and start injections of fulvestrant—two at a time—starting every two weeks and then moving to every month.

The other medication that I need to take now is called palbociclib, but it is not yet available in Canada as a free medication through the cancer centre.  The pill is taken for 21 days with 7 days off and then you start over again with that cycle.  The cost of palbociclib is $7,000 per month.  This is a huge cost for anyone, but since I have no medical plan now, the entire cost will land on my plate.  I have contacted the manufacturer but they are not offering financial assistance at this time. I can apply for some financial assistance but only about $1,000 per month.  I have written letters to several government officials and have not received any replies from anyone yet. 

I am still trying to find assistance from other sources.  Having this medication—if it works as well as the last pills I had—could help sustain my life for another year or so, perhaps even more.

We are very fortunate that most of the medications required for fighting metastatic breast cancer are available – at no cost – for us at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.  I truly appreciate that.  However, when some new medication is finally tested and ready to use, it takes so long for us to access it in Canada.  And to purchase it is nearly impossible for most people.

I would like to see that Canadians would be able to access the meds at the same time that they become available to U.S. citizens.  And the cost?  I don’t know how they can change that.  I realize that there may need to be some cost, but to make medication (that may save our lives) so costly that most people really cannot afford to purchase it makes me wonder what’s the use of it all.  Medication should not be just for those with money to spend.  Everyone should be able to access it.

Jacquie Shand is a metastatic breast cancer patient living in Calgary, Alberta.

Join our campaign to share stories, pics and advocacy to increase drug access for patients. #MBCNoTime2Wait

Related posts

  • Sep 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

    I learned about “timely and equitable access” to oncology drugs at the Canadian Breast Cancer Network's metastatic breast cancer advocacy training in 2013. I was the first in Canada prescribed Perjeta, days after Health Canada approved the drug. My oncologist shared exciting trial results about dual blockade (using two drugs simultaneously against breast cancer). The trastuzumab emtansine (TDM-1) trial had closed days earlier. Another combo was available but it was “back pocket.” The caveat was that it wasn’t funded but my extended health insurance benefits agreed to pay. On route to my first infusion, I penned a sign: BELIEVE. We did. I had dozens of liver and lymph mets and my liver was failing. After two rounds, I had normal liver enzymes and after three, normal tumour markers.

  • Sep 19, 2017, 12:00 AM

    In August 2016, Erin Richard of Sydney, Nova Scotia was diagnosed with triple negative metastatic breast cancer.  She was only 39 years old.

The views and experiences expressed through personal stories on Our Voices Blog are those of the authors and their lived experiences. They do not necessarily reflect the position of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network. The information provided has not been medically reviewed and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare team when considering your treatment plans and goals.