It's called Perjeta — a name that means virtually nothing to most Canadians but to Patricia Stoop it means life or death.
Perjeta is a new cancer drug; Stoop needs it to survive.
One intravenous treatment alone costs $3,600 every three weeks and her medical coverage is fast running out.
"I just really want to keep living," said the 43-year-old mother of two. "And I think that this is one of my only options."
Her friends have rallied to her cause, organizing the upcoming Harvest Hoedown fundraiser to help pay for the medication.
Stoop has metastatic breast cancer — cancer that has spread from the breast to different parts of the body, often with increased severity. In Stoop's case, the cancer is now in her liver.
"Several years ago that was pretty much a death sentence and now these days, with these new medications and new options, it's more like a really bad chronic disease, if you can get on the right medication," she said. "Otherwise, it's still a death sentence."
She's found the right medication. She just wants to keep taking it.
Stoop's story began, out of the blue, just over two years ago, when she found two lumps in her left breast in a self-exam. She was 40 years old, hadn't yet had her first regular mammogram.
She thought the lumps were cysts and went to the doctor who sent her immediately for an ultrasound in the city.
Before she had even had a biopsy to confirm the news, a surgeon told her that she likely had breast cancer. The biopsy confirmed the worst — it was a very aggressive breast cancer called HER-2.
"They were like lima beans when I found them and by the time they measured them... they were eight to 12 centimetres big and I had four tumours and I had a great big golf ball in my armpit in my lymph nodes."
Swiftly, Stoop was in the throes of cancer treatment — hard chemotherapy for three months, surgery to remove both breasts, radiation and 17 IV rounds of a "targeted" cancer drug called Hercipton every three weeks.
In August 2012 she got the all clear.
"Everything was fine."
She was back at work full time as an occupational therapist for Vancouver Coastal Health by the end of December.
Life was back on track. They took a family holiday to Hawaii to celebrate being cancer free.
At her six-month check up, the Monday after she returned from her vacation, her blood work showed the cancer was back. Somewhere.
By Friday she was at the Whistler Health Care Centre for a full head to toe CT scan. On Monday she had a bone scan.
The breast cancer had spread to her liver — there were two big tumours and lots of little ones.
Stoop was back on the cancer drugs on Tuesday, steeling herself for another fight.
But she wasn't prepared for the sucker punch coming her way.
After two Perjeta treatments, and a scan showing the tumours had shrunk 60 per cent, Stoop got the call that her extended benefits at work would no longer cover the treatment.
It wasn't enough that she was fighting for her life; now she was fighting to even have a chance to be in the ring.
She remembers the phone call on May 28 when she learned that BC PharmaCare does not cover Perjeta and her collective agreement covered only PharmaCare drugs.
It was devastating news.
Perjeta was approved by Health Canada in April. Stoop was the second person to get it. It remains to be seen if the province will fund it or not.
In the meantime, she needs to find a way to pay for treatment as she lobbies her case to all who will listen — her union, the insurance companies, the province, the feds, the cancer agencies.
"There were people that weren't even offered this drug because there was no way they could ever afford it, they don't have that option," said Stoop. "When you have metastatic cancer you need as many good options as you can, in a timely manner. You don't have time."
The Harvest Hoedown Fundraiser will take place on Sunday Sept. 29 at the Wildwood. To donate an item for the silent auction contact Linda McGaw at 604-935-2800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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