Taylor Hart needs treatment for Stage 4 cancer. It will cost $120,000, and is not covered by Medicare.
Almost half that amount, $57,000, has been raised in less than a month. But Taylor doesn’t know how much time he has to find the rest.
His oncologist asked, when Taylor was diagnosed, if he wanted a timeline. But he didn’t want to know.
His sister, Kendra created a page on Gofundme.com, and it has raised almost $57,000 in 22 days.
Hart was humbled by the response.
“Family, friends, friends of friends, and even random people all came together and did this,” he said.
Taylor has worked in Maple Ridge for five years with B.W. Creative, where the employees raised $4,000. The company then matched that amount.
An anonymous donor pitched in $2,000.
Kendra has been writing e-mails of thanks to each of the more than 400 donors.
The generosity has given them hope that the treatment Taylor needs might be accessible.
In October 2015, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer. It is in his esophagus, and inoperable.
“It was the worst day of my entire life, and all of ours,” said Kendra.
The cancer reached Stage 4 without showing any symptoms.
“It was very weird, because he’s a super healthy guy.”
Taylor did a round of chemotherapy, and it initially shrunk his tumours by 60 per cent after six cycles.
But then the chemo drugs stopped working after 10 months, and the tumours began to grow again.
“We found out on the night of my recent wedding rehearsal dinner that chemotherapy was no longer working for Taylor, and that he would need to switch to a different type of treatment,” said Kendra. “Despite this news, Taylor stood up with me in our wedding party on our big day.”
Taylor had a personalized onco-genomics exam, for which doctors map a patient’s genetic makeup, in the hope that there is a drug that could put the cancer into remission. Last year, a Vancouver woman was given two to three years to live after bring diagnosed with colorectal cancer. But it was made barely detectable by a blood pressure medication.
Taylor’s POG offered no “magic cure” for him, but it did point to immunotherapy as a promising treatment. His oncologist recommends it, but it is not yet covered by Medicare for his type of cancer.
“It’s so frustrating,” said Kendra
In immunotherapy, the drug pembrolizumab has been successful at treating skin cancer, and is approved for such use in Canada. But it’s still in Phase 3 trials for gastric cancers, and not approved for that use by Medicare.
Taylor’s parents are ready to sell their home for his treatment – something he calls “a horrible idea.”
“If it a was a guarantee, then it would be different,” he said.
His understanding is that researchers know the drug is effective, but it doesn’t work for everybody. They are testing dosages and using it in combination with other drugs in their clinical trials.
He does not expect the drug would put his cancer in remission.
“I’m Stage 4, so it’s about extending my life, and making me comfortable in my life.”
That response is typical of Taylor’s outlook throughout his ordeal.
“He’s such an inspiration. He never lets it get him down,” said Kendra.
“He’s just like ‘What’s next.’”
Taylor can only get the treatment free on a compassionate basis, through either the company that manufactures the drug, or through the government.
His oncologist applied for both on his behalf, but Taylor was denied.
His last option is to pay for the drug himself, at a cost of $8,000 every three weeks.
If he started immunotherapy, he may not get the best result if the treatment is interrupted due to a lack of funds.
Also, Taylor has started a second round of chemotherapy, and it is going well.
His first round left him nauseous, too weak to even climb a flight of stairs. He’s losing his hair again this time, but the physical impact has not been so severe. He is able to work.
As long as chemo keeps working, his oncologist said he should continue indefinitely.
“She seems amazed every time she sees me,” he said.
If it stops working, as it did the first time, he will then switch to immunotherapy.
For Taylor, the issue of funding for treatment is not just about him, but other cancer patients.
“It’s frustrating thinking about people in my situation, who can’t work, can’t get chemotherapy, and they just have to sit there when there is another therapy available,” he said.
Taylor has met with local politicians to try and get changes or an exemption.
MP Dan Ruimy’s first response was that this is a provincial matter – only Victoria can decide to fund Taylor’s therapy.
Ruimy has taken the issue to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, and said that was her response, as well.
When a drug is still considered experimental, government cannot approve its use against all of the many forms of cancer, explained Ruimy.
“I’m not a doctor. It’s hard for me to speculate about this,” he said.
Ruimy will be attending a community fundraiser for Taylor.
“He’s quite an extraordinary young man,” Ruimy said. “Being faced with what he is faced with, at that young age, I don’t know how most of us would react.
“He has taken on the challenge. He wants to work. He wants to make something of his life, and he’s not waiting for this disease to take him.”
MLA Doug Bing has written letters to B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, and will ask a pharmaceutical company to give Taylor the treatment as a compassionate case. He is conferring with another MLA who was able to successfully lobby a pharma company for a patient.
“I don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” he said.
Bing said, with new drugs being tested, and desperate patients, “this is a dilemma government faces all the time.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not possible to approve them all,” said Bing.
He clarified that it is an issue for both levels of government, because drugs receive approval at the federal level, but a provincial board decides whether it will be approved for funding under Medicare.
Taylor has recently taken trips to Pender Island, Whistler, Portland and Vancouver Island.
“When I’m not working, I’m spending time with family and friends,” he said. “I’m going canoeing or skiing.”
There are two fundraisers coming up to benefit Taylor. Both can be found on Facebook pages by searchingWeHartTaylor – Fundraising Party! and the other GOAT YOGA with Nicole – A fundraiser for Taylor Hart.
“It’s a sad story,” said Ruimy. “But he’s got his spirits up, and they’re fighting.”