The family of a Quebec man stuck in Mexico is searching for answers after they say he received medical clearance to travel and then discovered his cancer had returned while on vacation.
Laurent Bigras and Antonieta Chavez headed to Cancun for a getaway with their two children in early March when it quickly took an unexpected and expensive turn.
“Our life changed from one day to another,” Chavez said.
Before their trip, Chavez says her husband had recently started experiencing back pain.
Bigras had been diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2020 and underwent chemotherapy at Montreal’s Sacré-Cœur Hospital until February 2021 – he was in remission.
Bigras had gradually started working again in January 2022 and the back pain started in the winter. He visited the same hospital’s emergency room more than once and made follow-up appointments, according to his wife.
Chavez says her husband’s blood tests and other exams didn’t raise any red flags at the time. He also didn’t have other symptoms like the weight loss and sweating he experienced when he was first diagnosed with cancer.
Bigras was given anti-inflammatories to ease the pain. Chavez said the medical team surmised the issue was muscle pain at the time — even when he returned to the ER with aches.
“He took appointments with physiotherapists, even with a massage therapist, trying to get better,” Chavez said.
In fact, Chavez says her husband visited his family doctor and talked about their upcoming trip. Bigras was told the vacation would be good for him, she said.
“He was in pain, but it was up and down,” Chavez said.
She said the family of four went on vacation to Cancun for a week in March and the back pain was manageable until the last day. As they were heading back to Montreal, Chavez said the aches became so intense on their first flight that Bigras was unable to walk or eat.
“Even the kids were like ‘Oh mom, he’s really in pain,'” Chavez said.
The family had to take Bigras to the emergency room during their transfer in Mexico City, where he stayed for the weekend and had to be treated with morphine. They received medication to be able to control the pain and he was discharged on Sunday, with the hopes of heading home.
The next day, Chavez says, her husband had to go back to the emergency room at Hospital Español. His pain wasn’t improving, even with high doses of medication.
The kids stayed with Chavez’s dad who lives in Mexico while Bigras was readmitted and doctors decided they needed to know what was causing the pain.
After an X-ray, the medical team at Hospital Español proceeded with an MRI. The doctor showed Chavez a photo of a massive tumor in her husband’s back.
“He (the doctor) said ‘I don’t even know how he’s able to stand,'” Chavez said. “This is a tumor of almost 40 centimetres. That’s why the pain is so hard.”
Afterward, a biopsy of the huge tumor confirmed the lymphoma was back. With his delicate health, Bigras hasn’t been able to leave the hospital.
As the hospital stay was extended, Chavez had to make the difficult decision to stay with her husband and to send their children back home so they could attend school. They are currently living with her sister in Laval.
Silvia Haidee, Chavez’s sister, said it has been a “hard time” for the whole family — especially the kids.
“They know he’s sick,” she said. “But, for sure for them, it’s confusing why their father is in Mexico instead of here.”
In the meantime, Chavez expects her husband to be in the hospital for at least another week if all goes well.
What the family is searching for now is why Bigras’ cancer allegedly wasn’t caught by doctors at Sacré-Cœur Hospital in Montreal after he repeatedly complained about feeling unwell.
“In Mexico, with one test they discovered what happened with him,” Haidee said.
The CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’île-de-Montréal, the health authority which oversees the hospital, said in a statement that it cannot comment on the patient’s file citing confidentiality.
But health authority did “strongly recommend” that Bigras contact its complaint commissioner.
Meanwhile, the financial costs for the family are mounting. Their insurance has been able to cover a large portion of medical expenses — about $40,000. They started a fundraiser to help since they now owe $12,000 out of their own pocket and that amount is growing.