Community comes together to help Kathy McPhee get much-needed medication to battle brain tumour
It's amazing what a simple e-mail and a massive amount of community support can accomplish in a short period of time.
During the Easter weekend, Reg Harden and Carol Carmichael, both members of the Knox Presbyterian Church community, sent an e-mail to fellow parishioners and members of the local community regarding their mutual friend Kathy McPhee.
McPhee is currently battling an inoperable brain tumour. According to Harden and Carmichael, she has been dealing with brain tumours since 2004 and has had successful operations to remove them in the past.
This time, however, the tumour can't be removed with an operation. Instead, McPhee is hoping to try a cocktail of drugs that includes the drug Avastin, a cancer drug that has been steeped in controversy in Ontario.
"Kathy has been part of the Vankleek Hill community for a very long time," Carmichael told The Review during an interview on Monday, April 16. "She is very well-liked and is well-known for being very positive and upbeat despite her illness. She's a wonderful lady and we wanted to do something to try to help her."
The ministry of health began funding Avastin in July 2008, when it committed $300 million over three years for the drug.
Avastin is widely used to treat colorectal cancer, as well as certain types of brain, breast and lung cancer. It works by preventing the growth of new blood vessels, which helps starve tumours. It was developed by Napoleone Ferrara, a scientist at the drug firm Genentech, which in 1989 isolated a key protein that drives blood vessel formation.
Ferrara used that information to develop a new treatment and, by 2003, human clinical trials revealed that Avastin helped extend the lives of patients with colorectal cancer by a few months.
Health Canada approved it as a colorectal cancer drug in 2005 after years of work and billions in research and development costs. Health Canada has also approved the drug for use in the treatment of brain cancer.
The time and money it took to bring Avastin to market means it doesn't come cheap - an eight-month course of treatment costs about $30,000.
The ministry of health has evaluated the drug for use as a treatment for brain cancer and decided not to include it on a list of prescription drugs the province would help pay for. That leaves hundreds of people suffering from this disease, including McPhee, having to pay $4,000 per month for the Avastin treatments they are taking in hopes of extending their lives for months.
The latest expert opinion of a team of brain cancer specialists who recently published the paper, Canadian Recommendations for the Treatment of Recurrent or Progressive Gioblastoma Multifore (GBM), the most common and very aggressive form of brain cancer, says anti-angiongenic drugs like Avastin have proven effective in extending the survival time of up to half the people suffering from the disease.
In an effort to help McPhee, Harden and Carmichael drafted a simple letter and e-mailed it to various people in the community during Easter weekend.
"Kathy is such a great lady that we wanted to do something to help," Harden explained. "Her oncologist wanted proof that there would be financial support for the drug so Carol and I put together this e-mail and put the call out to the community."
In the e-mail, they asked those wishing to respond to call or e-mail Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Grant Crack to inform him of McPhee's situation and urge him to take action.
Both Harden and Carmichael admit they were stunned at the response they received to the e-mail.
"The e-mail was circulated to hundreds of people in only a few days," Carmichael noted. "The response was overwhelming and the community really came together to join this amazing cause. It's times like this when a community really comes together and you get to see just how much everyone cares and is so willing to help."
By Tuesday, April 10, Harden and Carmichael received a response from Crack indicating he wanted to meet with McPhee to further discuss the issue.
"We just could not believe how fast it all happened," Harden commented. "Grant Crack said in only a few days his office was flooded with calls and e-mails about Kathy and her situation. It was truly amazing."
Crack paid a visit to McPhee on Wednesday, April 11 and committed himself to pursuing any "discretionary funding" that may be available to help McPhee, in addition to consulting with the provincial health minister regarding the approval of Avastin for the treatment of brain tumours.
That same day, McPhee also received word that she would be able to begin Avastin infusion treatments at the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital and received her first treatment on Friday, April 13.
"She will be receiving six infusion treatments which translates into about 18 weeks," Harden explained. "I called the hospital and they said they were aware of Kathy's story and had the medication ready to go. It's really great for Kathy because no she won't have to travel to Montreal for treatment. It makes it so much easier for her."
Carmichael explained McPhee's insurance company will cover half the cost of the treatment, while Roche Canada, the maker of the drug, has reduced the cost of the medication by 25 per cent. The remaining cost will come of out McPhee's pocket.
Both Harden and Carmichael said while they knew Vankleek Hill and the surrounding area was full of caring people, they were overwhelmed by the response to Kathy's plight.
"This is a wonderful community, but I can honestly say, we could not have done any of this without all the support we received from people in the community," Carmichael commented. "It's just amazing to see people step up and support Kathy is this manner. It's really thanks to all those people that we are where we are today."
Harden agreed noting that while he and Carmichael sent the e-mail, it never would have gone this far without the support of so many "wonderful people.
"So many people have stepped up to help Kathy and her family over the years," Harden remarked. "People have brought food over or driven Kathy to medical appointments. We know we live in a great community, but you really see just how great it is when people come together to help a person in need."
For further information on how you can help Kathy and her family, please contact Harden at 613-678-2078.