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Cancer: Our national shame

The killing cost of drug treatment

Continued from Page 2

For many, the system can be baffling: In Saskatchewan, a cancer patient's anti-pain and anti-nausea medication taken out of hospital is covered by that province, yet it isn't anywhere in Atlantic Canada.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced plans to expand drug coverage for an additional 100,000 residents next year, but concerns about hefty co-payments loom.

In Nova Scotia, trying to obtain drugs can be so complicated that the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax last year hired a medication resource specialist to help oncology patients deal with it. Social worker Mary Lou Robertson has the job of untangling the programs for patients, which can include those offered by pharmaceutical companies.

"It's a maze," said Ms. Robertson. "Access to each of these forms is different. Some look at assets, others don't." Typically, the patient Ms. Robertson is trying to help makes $20,000 to $25,000 annually, has drug costs of $700 a month and earns too much to qualify for programs.

"I see spouses going without medications they need because they are trying to support the medication bills of the other spouse," Ms. Robertson said.

As for Ms. Morey, she benefited from a door-to-door campaign organized by South Brook's former town clerk, Marlene Burton, in the community of 580 people.

"I wrote a letter that said, 'This is to confirm that we are conducting a donating effort for Rhonda Morey, seeing that she is afflicted with cancer and doesn't have the resources to pay for the medication,'" Ms. Burton recalled. In the end, her neighbours raised more than $1,000.

Other help for Ms. Morey came when she obtained a drug card through the province. Though it pays for many of her current and future prescriptions, she said it still does not cover anti-nausea drugs taken outside of hospital.

She hopes to erase the $4,000 in credit-card debt before she passes, not that she plans on dying any time soon. She has outlived her prognosis by almost two years already.

"Those kids are my strength," Ms. Morey said. "I don't want them to think that mom never tried."

And try she has. When doctors said there was nothing more they could do this fall, she pressed for more chemotherapy to buy time. To ease the burden of her loss, she has made her girls mementoes beyond the blankets and handkerchiefs: There are family trees tracking 13 generations and a book of mom's best recipes, including chocolate chip cookies. Ms. Morey has written too many notes to count, describing her love for her daughters.

"I'm trying to make it so that when I'm gone, it's as easy as possible. My kids know that I'm sick. They know about angels and God. I've explained everything so there are no surprises."

Except, perhaps, a proud health-care system that failed to fully cover a young mother's cancer treatment.

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