A family in Chambly, Que., south of Montreal, is in a race against the clock.
One of their members, Maria Muscari, 22, has Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma, a kind of blood cancer, and after years of fighting the disease unsuccessfully in Canada, they may have found potentially helpful treatment in the United States.
Although it is costly, without it, they fear the worst.
“There’s no option for failure because if we do she dies,” Muscari’s stepfather Rick Kidder stressed.
Muscari was diagnosed four years ago, at the age of 19. Since then she’s undergone more than 60 rounds of treatment.
“Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, I’ve had my eggs frozen and I’ve had my own stem cell transplant done,” she told Global News.
Now, she said, the cancer that started in her lymph nodes has spread to her lungs and her life is on hold. The former nursing student can’t study or work because she’s immunocompromised.
She said there was hope for treatment in Florida this past May, “but unfortunately they had no trials available there,” she explained.
She was referred to a trial program of cellular immunotherapy for refractory Hodgkin lymphoma at a clinic in Texas, into which she was accepted.
In an email provided to Global News Dr. Yago Nieto at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, to whom Muscari was referred, wrote, “the response rate is 94%, and all 24 patients who received the same dose that Maria will receive have responded. Importantly, the complete remission rate is 69%.”
While Muscari is optimistic, her stepfather pointed out there’s just one hitch.
“The estimated cost, because of the time that we’re going to be spending in hospital, will come out about C$325,000,” he said.
He says the treatment isn’t available in Canada yet and Medicare won’t cover the cost.
“It hasn’t ben a good year to start off with,” said Muscar, “but with this trial I feel much more hopeful, less stressed. I really feel like this is going to save my life for sure.”
The treatments begin in September and they must come up with the money before then, so they’ve begun a fundraising campaign.
Kidder too, believes the trials will succeed.
While he is disappointed the treatments aren’t available in Canada and understands that it takes time.
“Now if that happens and the results are positive, then she’ll be the person opening the door,” he argued.
For now they’re keeping their fingers crossed – for funding, for treatment, for success.