P.E.I. woman calling on province to cover costly cancer drug

Every day, Norma Lewis takes a drug to treat her lung cancer — a disease she was diagnosed with in October 2014. 

"There was no guarantee of a cure. I always knew that from the beginning. Because once it's stage four, there's no cure for it. But I hoped that it would give me a little more time, which it did," Lewis said.

"It's almost five years later, and I'm still here." 

But Lewis recently got the difficult news that her cancer has changed and is spreading once again — and the drug that she'd been taking appears to be no longer effective for her. 

There is another drug that might help, but it is not readily available to Islanders. Lewis and her family are calling on the province to add the cancer drug Tagrisso to P.E.I.'s drug formulary. 

'Dangled in front of you'

Tagrisso, developed by the drug company AstraZeneca, is designed to target metastatic non-small cell lung cancer with specific gene mutations. 

After the upsetting news that Lewis's cancer was spreading, she and her family were excited to learn about Tagrisso. 

"It gave us a lot of hope," said her son, TJ Lewis. 

"There's a treatment available for the specific thing that she has. And, you know, the first few days we were very hopeful, until we found out that it was going to be really hard to get."

Sarah MacMillan/CBC

Tagrisso is not currently covered by the province. At the recommended dose of 80 mg per day, Tagrisso costs $294.67 per day — adding up to more than $8,000 per 28-day course of treatment, according to P.E.I.'s Department of Health and Wellness. 

"It's like it's dangled in front of you but you can't get it," Norma Lewis said. 

Lobbying province

Since learning about Tagrisso, TJ has spent countless hours researching the drug, reaching out to AstraZeneca directly, starting an online petition and contacting Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward. 

In a statement to CBC News, Aylward said the province is working to add additional cancer drugs to the provincial formulary.

"There are several cancer drugs being considered as priority investments, including Tagrisso."

You just don't think about it until you need it. — Norma Lewis

In the meantime, Aylward said the province has been "working closely" with the drug manufacturer, and, according to Aylward, the company "has agreed to provide interim support for an Island patient who requires this particular medication."

Lewis said she is hopeful the province will add Tagrisso to the drug formulary — for her, and for others who might need it. 

"You don't think about those things until you're diagnosed yourself. And you just think that you're going to be looked after," she said.  

"We have a pretty good medical care system in this country, and you just don't think about it until you need it."

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