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Monday May 19, 2014

A valiant bid for life-prolonging treatment

Brain cancer victim confronted Ontario government about why Avastin, a drug paid for elsewhere, would not be funded for her

Special to The Globe and Mail

Kimm Fletcher was never one to back away from a challenge. While many terminally ill patients understandably retreat to put their lives in order and wait for the end, the Ontario wife and mother of two chose to fight publicly for a treatment that might have prolonged her life.

Suffering from an aggressive type of brain cancer, she spoke out in the media and confronted the provincial government about why Avastin, a cancer drug paid for in three other provinces, would not be funded for her. Her compelling story helped shed light on the push for a nationwide drug-funding system that advocates say is needed to resolve discrepancies that are unfair to Canadians.

"She didn't go looking for the fight," said her husband, Scott Fletcher. "But when it came to her she didn't back down."

Kimm Fletcher was born in Montreal on Oct. 3, 1972, to Keith Poirier, a line splicer for Bell Canada, and his wife, Marilyn. She would be the middle child between her brother, Terry, and sister, Robin.

The family followed her father's job, moving first to James Bay and then ending up in Oakville, Ont., in the early 1980s. Ms. Fletcher attended White Oaks High School, graduating in 1991. She then took a two-year program at nearby Sheridan College as preparation to pursue her dream of becoming a police officer.

She went to B.C., where she found work as a security guard, but eventually moved back to Ontario. She was working in security at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto in 1998 when she met Mr. Fletcher, another Oakville resident who had also gone to White Oaks.

"We had the same group of acquaintances in high school, but we didn't know each other," Mr. Fletcher said. "I played sports and had jobs. Kimm had friends and hung out."

Years later, a mutual friend decided it was time they connect and invited them both to a party at her place. "Kimm showed up in her overalls because our friend failed to tell her I was coming," he laughed. But Scott, who was building and racing stock cars at the time, wasn't put off by her lack of sartorial preparedness. He took her to dinner.

"We talked all through the night and were never apart after that," he said. She was his "French-Canadian, Roman Catholic, red-headed Libra." They married on Oct. 9, 1999, and made their home in Oakville.

Following in her father's footsteps, Ms. Fletcher trained as a line splicer for a Bell subcontractor, a job that was lost in a massive layoff. She spent the last eight years of her working life as bilingual customer relations agent for Osram Sylvania and its sister company Siemens Healthcare in Mississauga. After their son, Keidon, was born in 2003, Mr. Fletcher went to work at Bodine Manufacturing in Smithville, Ont. By the time their second child, Martie, was born in 2006, they had moved north of Oakville to Milton.

Their life was a "typical married life," Mr. Fletcher said. When he and his wife weren't working, they spent time with Keidon and Martie, swimming and enjoying sports, especially soccer. Ms. Fletcher also loved to sing.

Their normal life ended on Jan. 24, 2010, when she had her first seizure. Two days later her brain tumour was diagnosed. A couple of weeks after that, it was removed. She had six weeks of radiation therapy in March and April and the cancer was declared in remission.

"This changed how she wanted to live her life," Mr. Fletcher said, and she began dedicating even more time to the kids. Mr. Fletcher quit his job to cut down on commuting time and they bought an auto detailing franchise in Milton.

In June of last year Ms. Fletcher began feeling fatigued and disoriented. An MRI scan revealed a small "blip." By July the blip had grown to the point where another surgery was needed. Though the doctors said the operation went well, within a week Ms. Fletcher was in bed again and another scan revealed a tumour growing out of control.

"They said, 'You've got six to 18 months to live with Avastin and one to three months without it," Mr. Fletcher said. The problem was that Avastin, which costs $4,300 per treatment, is not covered under the provincial health plan as a treatment for brain cancer.

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