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Friends of Coquitlam cancer patient urge B.C. to cover life-saving drug

A $30,000 GoFundMe campaign is set up to benefit Kari and Matthew Atkins, who are currently paying out of their own pocket for treatment.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Coquitlam residents Kari (right) and Matthew Atkins, who are currently paying for Kari's Stage 3 breast cancer treatment out of their own pocket.

The Tri-Cities community is coming to the aid of a Coquitlam woman with Stage 3 breast cancer while also encouraging others to seek change in B.C.'s healthcare system.

Kari Atkins has been battling the disease since she was diagnosed in 2016 and has been receiving treatment ever since.

But for the past several months, she and her husband Matthew have been paying their own hard-earned money for a new form of cancer treatment that requires a drug not currently covered by the B.C. government.

Last year, Kari was ordered by her doctor to use HER2 Climb, which has a core component of Herceptin recently approved for use in the province.

The combo was recommended as Kari's two prior drug protocols could not cross the blood/brain barrier and increased the risk of brain tumours.

According to a GoFundMe campaign set up by friends of the couple, the Atkins are currently forced to pay $1,200 a month to sustain Kari's treatment.

Organizer Lynda McKillip explains the Atkins are "the last people" to ever ask for help, but in addition to the funds, she hopes the campaign can also make some noise in the Victoria legislature.

"The only help they have asked for is to have friends and family lobby our provincial politicians to help cut through the red tape and make this life-saving drug available to people who need it," says McKillip. 

"That said, Kari needs these drugs every month and most likely will for the rest of her life.... We hope to bridge the gap until our elected officials see fit to approve funding for the drug that is keeping her alive, as well as help cover the associated medical supply costs and allow them to live a life worth fighting for."

The fundraiser has set a goal of $30,000 to ease the Atkins' financial strains.

McKillip explains Kari's Stage 3 metastatic fight the last three years has resulted in the cancer's spread to her liver and bones, as well as tumours in her brain.

She underwent surgery and radiation in 2020 as an initial treatment and HER2 is widely-known to be very effective in preventing brain tumours.

But with the drug held off for any financial coverage, McKillip says Kari — and other cancer patients in B.C. — can't afford it and are left in an "unfathomable position."

"Coverage of cancer drugs in B.C. is something we all expect," she says.

"As Canadians, we take pride in our healthcare system, and it's unthinkable that our ability to survive an illness should be connected to the number in our bank account."

In her statement, McKillip encourages supporters of the Atkins' to reach out to local MLAs regarding Herceptin, as well as B.C. premier John Horgan and health minister Adrian Dix. 

The GoFundMe page calls the Atkins' a hardworking couple that's been known to travel across the globe "savouring life and making new friends."

If you wish to make a contribution to the Atkins, you're encouraged to visit GoFundMe's website.

As of this publication (July 12), more than $13,000 has been collected.