Cancer patient calls for equal funding for take-home drugs

A cancer patient from Sydney is speaking out, saying the provincial government should pay for all chemotherapy drugs, not just those administered in hospital.

Gordon Doughart's monthly oral medication costs $14,740 per month

One man says he will not give up until all cancer drugs are funded equally. 2:09

A cancer patient from Sydney is speaking out, saying the provincial government should pay for all chemotherapy drugs, not just those administered in hospital.

Gordon Doughart says the province needs to pay for take-home pills and injectable chemotherapy drugs. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

CanCertainty — a coalition of 35 cancer organizations — is calling for fairness in drug costs.

In many provinces, cancer drugs are covered by the provincial government, whether the patient takes the medication in hospital or at home in pill form — but not in Nova Scotia, the other Atlantic provinces and Ontario.

Gordon Doughart of Sydney, N.S. was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma 18 months ago. In he last few months, the cancer has spread to other organs.

He says his medication costs $14,740 per month.

He has insurance to cover most of that — and an anonymous donor helps with the rest.

"I had just assumed, you go to the hospital, you get what you need and that would be it. I had already gone through surgeries, treatments, radiation — everything looked after and then to finally hear the pill I needed was going to cost me money was quite shocking," said Doughart tells CBC's Information Morning.

"We are fortunate enough to have people like Mary Lou Robertson who was on your show Friday. She takes us in, consoles us, reassures us that the money is there but it is going to take time — and that’s the hardest part of this disease is waiting."

Doughart had to wait 12 days for the funding to come together before he could receive his potentially life-saving medication. 

"We’re told we have a disease in our body that’s incurable and now because of our policies, we’re going to give [the disease] a head start and you have to wait for the paperwork to be done so someone can pay for the drugs that should be covered as it is in half the other provinces in the country. So it’s hard, it’s the longest days of your life," he said.

'It's just not fair'

This is what thousands of dollars worth of Zelboraf, an oral cancer medication, looks like. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Doughart said he’s heard of people waiting as long as six weeks to get cancer medication while the patient figures out who is going to pay for it.

"So the disease is already in your body and you’re giving it a six-week head start for paperwork. It’s just not fair," he said.

Doughart said the province saves money when people are not in hospital - and it's better for people to receive their treatments at home. 

He has a message for government when it comes to universal cancer coverage. 

"It’s time for change. It’s time for change. We don’t allow discrimination in our homes, we don’t allow it on our schools — yet everyday the government is sitting back and discriminating thousands of Nova Scotians in our hospitals," he said.

"We’re asking for help, we need help. Help is there. Give us the dignity of being able to take our oral drugs at home, in the privacy of our home. Why are we being discriminated against? Why are they not covered? It makes no sense."

Doughart said there are other issues with not funding the drugs. The pain he experiences with his condition makes it difficult to leave his house to pick up his medication. 

"The drug I took attacks my joints and for the first three weeks I had to crawl around my house. I couldn’t even walk it was so crippling. But yet I had to go out and go to my pharmacy, pick up my drugs, go back, request the next month’s drugs, go back and pick them up," he said. 

"Whereas if I lived in Quebec or the western provinces, those would have been couriered out the night after I was diagnosed with my disease."