A Canadian woman says she paid more than $150,000 to undergo cancer treatment in the U.S. after being told to consider assisted suicide because her country’s universal health care system likely could not save her.
Allison Ducluzeau, 57, was diagnosed last year with a rare, aggressive form of abdominal cancer after suffering pain she initially thought came from overeating at Thanksgiving, she told Canada’s Global News website.
But even worse news came, Ducluzeau said, when a consulting surgeon at the BC Cancer Agency told her she was not a candidate for a procedure in which visible tumors are surgically removed and heated chemotherapy drugs are then infused into the abdomen.
Instead, she said, the doctor told her she’d have to rely on standard intravenous chemotherapy, which might slow — but not cure — the disease.
The physician also predicted that Ducluzeau, a realtor from Saanich, a suburb of Victoria, British Columbia, had a “life span of what looks like to be two months to two years,” she said.
“And I suggest you talk to your family, get your affairs in order, talk to them about your wishes, which was indicating, you know, whether you want to have medically assisted dying or not,” she recalled hearing.
With the help of her family and friends, Ducluzeau found a cancer surgeon who performs the two-step treatment at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
Ducluzeau then used a small inheritance and $91,000 in donations raised online to pay for the procedure, known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, she told Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper.
“I felt like I had no option but to go somewhere else. Other places in Canada do HIPEC but how could I get a referral?” she said.
The Feb. 2 surgery revealed her cancer was actually more widespread than suspected and Ducluzeau’s appendix, gallbladder and spleen were all removed, along with the membrane that connects her stomach and other organs.
Some of the tumors couldn’t be excised during the 12-hour operation and Ducluzeau underwent six months of chemotherapy in Victoria but she told the Times Colonist that she no longer has any pain and that her energy and appetite have returned to normal.
Ducluzea’s ordeal was highlighted last week during a meeting of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly, where opposition leader Kevin Falcon of BC United said wait times for cancer treatment in the province were among the country’s longest.
Average life expectancy in Canada fell to 81.3 years in 2022, marking the third consecutive annual decline, with cancer and heart disease the leading causes of death, the public Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported last week.
In addition, Canada recorded 121,735 premature deaths in 2021 — up from 104,880 in 2017 — including 24,700 from treatable causes, according to the latest government statistics.
Despite those grim figures, the average life expectancy in the Great White North still beats the U.S., where it was 76.4 years in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ducluzeau’s surgeon, Dr. Armando Sardi, has reportedly compiled literature that shows HIPEC treatment for her disease, appendiceal peritoneal carcinomatosis, has led to a median survival rate of 12 years.
“There are people alive 20 years later — we don’t even talk about five years from now, we talk about 10 years because we have so many patients alive,” he told the Times Colonist.
In the months since her operation, Ducluzeau has taken up running and watched her daughter graduate from the University of Victoria’s law school in May, she told the Times Colonist.
She also married her partner of nine years, Roderick Bernasky, on a beach in Hawaii on Nov. 14.
“I never wanted to get married again but when all this came down I just really wanted to do it out of appreciation for what an amazing partner Rod has been to me,” she said.
“Sometimes it bugs me a little bit — I think he’s in denial, but he says I’m going to be around a long while and we have lots of fun left to have.”
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available 24 hours a day through the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. You are not alone.