Quebec woman with rare cancer will get out-of-province treatment after research fund steps up to cover costs


Stéphanie Alain was screaming for joy on Wednesday afternoon after receiving a call from her doctor.

He told her she’s heading to Calgary and Quebec’s health research fund — a not-for-profit organization funded by the government — stepped up to cover up to $100,000 for her to participate in an experimental treatment she’s hoping will save her life.

“My family cried with me,” said Alain. “We’re all really relieved and also happy.”

Alain’s been waiting for this opportunity for months, after Quebec’s health insurance board (RAMQ) refused to cover part of the cost associated with the treatment.

The doctors running the Health-Canada-approved trial said their funding would cover the entire cost of the treatment, but not standard procedures like scans and blood tests as well as possible adverse reactions associated with the experimental trial.

Alain isn’t allowed to pay for this type of care out-of-pocket but the facility in Calgary can’t cover the costs because she isn’t an Alberta resident. RAMQ said it couldn’t pay for any part of something that is “experimental.”

Feeling out of options, Alain and her doctor went public with the story.

The treatment is the only hope for recovery for the 31-year-old, who was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma last year — a rare cancer that has since spread to her lungs.

Relieved that the waiting game is over, Alain, who is mother to a four-year-old, is getting ready to pack her bags.

“It’s going to take a lot of organizing, but we’ll continue with day-to-day life, because the world keeps spinning,” said Alain.

“In the next few weeks, I have a little boy who’s starting school, so we’ll be able to take advantage of being here to integrate him in school.”

‘You cannot have a better ending than this,’ says oncologist

Her oncologist, Dr. Ramy Saleh, the medical director of oncology research at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), says the research fund was able to contribute because he is an investigator in the Calgary trial.

He says the team is working overtime to make sure Alain’s tests and blood work are complete before starting her treatment plan.

“Time was against Stéphanie because if we waited a long time and her breathing status became worse or her functional status became worse, she’s definitely out of the clinical trial,” said Saleh.

“We’re very lucky and blessed. I would say that we found a way very quickly to get her on the trial and during the small period of time her functional status is still okay for her to go on it.”

A woman smiles and takes a selfie in a hospital room.
Stéphanie Alain’s cancer has spread to her lungs. Her oncologist says this treatment is her only option. (Submitted by Stéphanie Alain)

Saleh says the support offered to Alain over the past few weeks has been encouraging because people have connected to her story.

“It’s a very nice ending. You cannot have a better ending than this. The patient got access to the treatment that she deserves,” said Saleh.

Come next month, Alain could be in Calgary. She says she will be renting a place to stay for a couple of weeks at a time to receive the treatment before returning to her family back home in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

“I’ve found renewed hope,” said Alain. She’s appreciates everyone who helped push her case forward. 

“Thank you to the people for supporting me, for being there, for doing everything to help me through this … It’s really been an important part of my journey.”

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