Nova Scotia woman prepares for another fight with cancer and the province

Robin McGee is not only in familiar territory in terms of her diagnosis, she’s also once again fighting to get access for all to a drug that’s not covered by the Nova Scotia health-care system.

Annapolis Valley resident pressing for greater access to publicly-funded cancer meds

Robin McGee says the inconsistency in the way drugs are covered for cancer patients from province to province is a serious problem. (Contributed)

For Robin McGee, there could be no crueller form of déjà vu.

In 2010, the Annapolis Valley-based psychologist was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It was a diagnosis that took two years to receive, was missed by four doctors, and even then she faced roadblocks, as the treatment recommended was not covered in Nova Scotia.

Now, the Port Williams resident is facing an eerily similar situation.

Last December, after six years in remission, McGee went for a routine CT scan.

"I was told it was clear," she said.

Problem was, the test wasn't actually clear. What was mistaken for her right ovary on the scan was actually cancer.

Problems with diagnosis

As her cancer blood markers continued to rise, McGee advocated for a PET scan, which at the end of June confirmed the cancer was back.

"I just couldn't believe that I could be a victim of medical error again," said McGee. "It's greatly shocking and very upsetting, but at the same time you can only start from where you are, and so here I am."

McGee is not only in familiar territory in terms of her diagnosis, she's also once again fighting to get access for all to a drug that's not covered by the Nova Scotia health-care system.

Late on Friday, McGee learned the Health Department would provide her an exemption to cover Vectibix, the treatment she needs to reduce the size of her cancer to the point where it's operable.

Without that exemption, McGee would have had to pay out of pocket because her insurance won't cover the cost of the drug. A cycle of Vectibix would cost $3,000. McGee is scheduled to have at least nine cycles.

Quest for universal access

While she's grateful the province has stepped in, McGee said she'd like to see everyone have access when they need it.

A spokeperson for the Health Department said in an email that Vectibix is in the process of being considered for addition to the list of drugs the province covers.

"When a case comes to us this far along in the process, we feel comfortable providing an exemption if it meets our criteria, and we communicate that directly to the patient," Tracy Barron said in an email.

Following her last experience with cancer, McGee became a tireless advocate for cancer patients, improved diagnosis practices, access to medication, preventive awareness and other issues. She wrote a book, The Cancer Olympics,  and sat on a variety of committees.

Lobbying health minister

The inconsistency in the way drugs are covered for cancer patients from province to province is a serious problem, said McGee.

As a patient, it's "distressing and staggering" to know there's medication that can potentially save your life but is not covered by provincial drug plans, she said.

In 2010, McGee mobilized supporters in her community through a letter-writing campaign to lobby then-health minister Maureen MacDonald to add the drug she needed at the time to the list of drugs the province covers. It eventually happened, although not in time for her.

Robin McGee said she's ready to campaign the province and Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey on making the province cover Vectibix. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

McGee said she's ready to do it again, this time with Health Minister Randy Delorey, using her previous support base as well as that of an online community that didn't exist back in 2010.

"To my mind, it's a huge injustice that cancer drugs are not funded equitably across the nation," she said.

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca