Few people know it, but Norma Morosan is a breast cancer survivor.
It’s information the White Rock woman says she only ever shared with family, following her 2011 diagnosis.
Until now, that is.
Morosan, the widow of renowned artist Voja Morosan, stepped out of her comfort zone last week to share the piece of her “very private” life in an effort to help other women like herself – those who’ve had breast implants following a mastectomy, but now want them removed in light of a link found between the textured implants and Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
Morosan received confirmation in a June 28 letter that she was among those potentially at risk, and said the news was “terrifying.”
It “came as a huge shock,” Morosan said.
“When I read this – the fear that went through me.”
The letter describes the condition as rare, with a risk ranging from one in 3,000 to one in 30,000. In addition to sharing symptoms to watch for, and that the best treatment for those with BIA-ALCL is removal of the implant and capsule, the letter advises that the explant surgery is not covered by the Medical Services Plan “unless there is proven clinical pathology.”
Morosan said she knew immediately that she wanted her implants removed, even though she’s had none of the described symptoms.
But she’s frustrated that the surgery doesn’t qualify for MSP coverage, particularly given that the reconstruction – which took four operations – following her cancer was.
“If I’d had it done for cosmetic reasons, I could see their point,” she said. “Now they find out that what they paid for isn’t working… You’ve left us.
“I can’t get my head around, this is Canada and we have to deal with this.”
Morosan’s story is a familiar one to at least one other White Rock woman.
Shannon Sayers said she paid US$18,000 to have her textured implants removed in an emergency surgery in California more than a year ago, after developing breast-implant illness and embarking on a desperate search to find a surgeon with the experience to conduct the extractions.
She shared her story with Peace Arch News in April, on the same day that Health Canada announced plans to suspend breast-implant manufacturer Allergan’s licences for Biocell implants, a move intended “to protect Canadian patients from the rare but serious risk” of BIA-ALCL.
(Wednesday morning (July 24), Allergan announced it is expanding the recall of its textured breast implants and tissue expanders worldwide, advising healthcare providers to immediately stop using Biocell saline-filled and silicone-filled textured breast implants and tissue expanders. As well, unused devices are being recalled from all markets.)
Sitting in Morosan’s living room last Monday (July 15), Sayers said she has tried, to no avail, to be reimbursed for the procedure by MSP. She said reasons she was given include that removal of the capsule around the implant is not covered, that the procedure is available in B.C. and that her application for coverage was filed 90 days too late.
Ministry of Health officials said they could not comment on specific patient cases, but confirmed this week that removal of the implants for non-symptomatic patients “is an exception to the payment schedule.”
However, “physicians can follow the established process for exemption requests by submitting a pre-approval for payment request to MSP (through Health Insurance BC),” a statement emailed to Peace Arch News Tuesdaynotes.
In cases where a medically necessary procedure that is not readily available in B.C. is required, a specialist physician may apply for out-of-country coverage, the statement adds.
“However, breast surgery is available in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada. When surgery is available in B.C., the patient would be referred to a specialist surgeon, who would determine the medical necessity for surgery and book the appropriate date. The specialist surgeon adjusts the surgery date when surgery is considered to be a medical emergency.”
Removal and replacement – if replacement is desired – of textured implants done for medical reasons will be covered by MSP, the statement adds.
Morosan said PAN’s April story about Sayers hit home when her June 28 letter arrived. She’d read the story while out of the country, and “took a photo of that because I thought I might need to talk to this lady one day.”
After receiving the letter, she wasted no time tracking Sayers down.
The pair connected a week later. Sayers said she took the call – sharing with Morosan what she’d learned about treatment and options through her own journey – despite having pledged to herself to focus only on her own recovery for the next two months.
“She was gracious enough to talk to me,” Morosan said. “She saved me a lot of time. Time is not on our side when you have this.”
It was during their first face-to-face meeting that an idea about how to help other women took root. Sayers says she knows the need is out there, as she has already spoken with another White Rock woman who has had to fundraise to help pay for her own upcoming explant surgery.
Morosan said she plans to use one of her late husband’s paintings, The Pier, to raise funds to help women who can’t afford the procedure.
“Everybody knew Voja. They know me. I might just be heard,” she said. “I know that painting, because of what’s happened with the pier, is very important right now.”
While she is currently selling prints of the artwork for business, once the fundraiser launches, going forward, those proceeds will switch over, Morosan said.
She said exactly when that will happen has yet to be determined, as “we still have to fine-tune” the fundraiser and, she is still trying to find a surgeon for her own procedure.
“I don’t want to get sick, as I see more and more women coming forward, with ailments from these implants. Once I’ve recovered from this I will intend to help other women in this predicament.”
Anyone interested in being notified of the fundraiser’s launch may email Morosan at firstname.lastname@example.org
She is optimistic that opening up about her own breast-cancer story will ease the journey for others facing the same situation.
“This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, is let people into my personal life,” Morosan said. “But if I can help one woman the way Shannon has helped me, it will be worth it.”
Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is to be a key topic at a Breast Cancer Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day planned for Oct. 9 at Surrey City Hall. Hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society in co-operation with regional plastic surgeons, the free event is “open to anyone touched by breast cancer in the past or present,” according to a letter sent to patients, including Norma Morosan.
In addition to recent news around ALCL, topics to be covered include the reconstruction process, a general surgeon’s perspective and support resources, the letter states.