Denied coverage has teacher facing steep drug bills as he battles stage four lung cancer
Published Thursday, December 20, 2018 9:29PM MST
A former Crescent Heights High School teacher finds himself at the mercy of costly medication due to a stipulation that has him excluded from the drug being covered by Alberta Health.
Kheang Ung was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in the spring of 2018 despite the fact he never smoked and had an active lifestyle.
The 47-year-old father of two young girls had taught high school science before learning in October that the cancer had spread to his brain. “It’s hard to believe it would happen so soon. I didn’t expect it.”
“He’s such a fighter,” said Karen Ung, Kheang’s wife. “Over the summer he was getting stronger and stronger so it was a shock to find out that it had spread.”
Tagrisso, the medication Ung requires, carries a hefty price tag of roughly $9,200 a month. “The problem with Kheang’s condition is that it’s not a tumour that they can just radiate and treat easily,” explained Karen. “It’s leptomeningenial disease so it’s a severe complication of advanced cancer that is in the lining of the brain and the spinal cord.”
The drug is covered by Alberta Health for patients with a specific mutation but Ung does not have the mutation and, as such, does not qualify. “We were told ‘You’d be on your own if you wanted to get it’,” said Karen. The Ungs say Alberta Health requires additional research into the drug before it would consider covering it for patients with Kheang’s condition.
The Ung family has private insurance but it only covers 80 per cent of the cost, leaving them with a monthly bill of $1,841.
In an attempt to alleviate the financial burden on the family, some of their friends created a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for Kheang’s medication. In its first six days, the campaign surpassed its original target of $12,000 and garnered more than $26,000 in donations. The campaign had been shared on social media more than 900 times.
“Our friends had shared it a lot but I think it was mostly his students,” said Karen. “We were crying reading. It was so heartwarming to read the comments from all of the students he’s taught because he’s taught for 17 years.”
“The support is out of this world,” added Kheang. “We’ve got enough for a year.”
To donate to the cause visit ‘Support the Ung Family’.
With files from CTV’s Kathy Le