A Montérégie mother who was bedridden from pain a few months ago is now fighting her rare cancer by working and playing with her children thanks to a new treatment.
“It’s worth its weight in gold. I had the chance to witness my daughter’s return to school to celebrate my son’s four years […] They raised me from the grave,” says Karen Beaudin, stifling her sobs.
Only 40 years old and mother of five children, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma last spring. It is a rare cancer of the membranes surrounding the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.
It is also not an insidious cancer that grows without symptoms for years, but a “lightning” cancer. From a mass of eight centimeters noted in late March, the tumor was about 20 centimeters in size by the end of May, says Mme Beaudin.
“I was in pain 23 hours a day,” she recalls. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stand or sit. She lay in a chair and took painkillers for several weeks… with no hope of recovery.
“I knew I had cancer, but we didn’t know what kind,” explains the Henryville woman, who was then being treated at Haut-Richelieu Hospital, where she also works to answer calls.
insecurity and pain
The uncertainty surrounding her illness and the speed at which her pain was worsening turned her family life upside down.
Her spouse Alexandre Derrien says he has “dropped to neutral”.
“I couldn’t believe it was cancer, she was too young,” he sighs. Fortunately, the couple was able to rely on the help of their parents and the adult daughters of Mme Beaudin.
Rejecting her fate, the mother of the family insisted that her file be transferred to CHUM, where a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
From the beginning he was offered a completely new treatment with double immunotherapy.
Unlike conventional chemotherapy, which targets the tumor, immunotherapy activates the immune system to attack cancer cells.
“I was sure it was a joke,” she says, adding that she agreed anyway because she had nothing to lose.
From the first treatment everything changed.
“I thought I was crazy. I felt like it was working, that my pain was changing places,” she says.
After three months of treatment every three weeks, Mme Beaudin says she “bursts into flames”.
The mass is shrinking, the pain is gone, but most importantly, she has returned to normal life. She can work and avoid the financial problems that people battling cancer all too often inherit. She also continues to watch her two youngest children, ages four and five, grow up.
Although it is still too early to speak of remission, Mme Beaudin estimates that she may have already gained two years of life, while she would have died without the treatments.
A cancer that is no longer a “death sentence”.
According to a CHUM researcher, a diagnosis of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos, was like a “death sentence” before immunotherapies were introduced last year.
With kind approval
dr Marie Florescu. hemato-oncologist
“To have hope and such an effective treatment is really very encouraging,” said Marie Florescu, a hematologist and oncologist at the University of Montreal Center (CHUM).
Last year, a drug for intravenous injection was approved by Health Canada and is now reimbursed by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec, she explains.
Clinical trials have shown survival rates of 41% in more than 600 patients, she continues, adding that this is primarily a breakthrough for the patients.
Because before this double immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system, patients had practically no options.
The DD Florescu points out that some could undergo chemotherapy, but successes were rare and doctors soon had only palliative care to offer.
The 5-year overall survival rate for mesothelioma in Canada is currently 7%. And that doesn’t count the pain, she says.
“Mesothelioma, which affects nerves, bones and muscles, causes a lot of suffering compared to other types of cancer,” she explains.
She recalls that when she first saw Karen Beaudin, who has been on the new treatment since May, she was in too much pain to sit still and had to lie down on the examination table.
“On her second visit, she danced the samba. It was really spectacular,” says the doctor.
It also took Ms Beaudin longer to be diagnosed because she was not exposed to asbestos at work.
dr Florescu says she’s heartened by the “spectacular responses” from the patients she’s been caring for for the past year. She adds that unlike chemotherapy, which wears off when treatments stop, immunotherapy wakes up the immune system over the longer term.