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Kirkland woman who fought for life-saving treatment in U.S., loses battle with cancer

  • Ella Shepherd Marchildon at home in Kirkland, March 2008.
    Ella Shepherd Marchildon at home in Kirkland, March 2008.
    Photo credit: (THE GAZETTE/Phil Carpenter).

A Kirkland woman, who was the centre of a well-publicized battle with Quebec’s health insurance board over her right to obtain life-saving treatment in the United States, has lost her battle with cancer.

Ella Shepherd Marchildon, a Kirkland mother of five, died Saturday from complications at the Lakeshore General Hospital, following a recurrence of the rare signet ring cell carcinoma for which she underwent specialized treatment in the U.S. in 2008.

Marchildon would have turned 50 next month.

A celebration of her life will take place Saturday, Nov. 2, at Rideau Memorial Gardens in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. The public is invited to attend the service.

“She was definitely courageous and determined,” said Joe Marchildon, Ella’s husband and unfailing support throughout the ordeal, on Tuesday at the family’s home in Kirkland.

In April 2008, Ella underwent a 20-hour operation at the Sugarbaker Oncology Clinic in Washington, D.C., to remove multiple tumours in her small and large intestines and vaginal walls, cancer that was initially detected in 2003 and that had spread.

The specialized surgical procedure entailed the removal of all but eight inches of Ella’s intestines, her gall bladder, appendix and reproductive organs and, a heated chemotherapy bath of her remaining internal organs.

Last April, Ella celebrated five years of being cancer-free. But that good news was shortlived when, in August, she learned that her cancer was back — and treatment options proved elusive.

Ella wanted to thank West Islanders for their support over the years, especially the letters, emails and phone calls that convinced the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec to reverse its decisions and allow her to seek life-extending treatment available only in the U.S., said Marchildon.

“The priority for Ella was always family,” he said.

She was grateful for the chance she had to watch her children grow up: Wyatt is now 19, Tatum, 18, and twins Dallas and Dakota are now 17. “The twins were 11 when this all started,” said Marchildon.

He added that Ella was so happy that she had had a chance to see her 28-year-old daughter Sandy Stringer, her oldest child from an earlier relationship, start a family of her own. Five-year-old Madison and 7-year-old Riley brough her pleasure.

He said without the support of West Island residents, he doesn’t know what would have happened.

“It was overwhelming at times,” he said, noting how he would walk away from the computer and an hour later come back to find 150 new emails. But it made all the difference.

Canada’s public health-care system is terrific 95 per cent of the time, said Marchildon. But it’s another matter when you get some kind of rare disease that’s not in the playbook and requires specialists and specialized treatment.

“It wasn’t just my mom’s fight, it was Joe’s fight, too,” said Sandy Stringer, thanking her stepfather for the tireless campaign he waged for Ella.“If it wasn’t for Joe, she wouldn’t have been around for nearly as long.”

A celebration of Ella Shepherd Marchildon’s life will be held Saturday, Nov. 2 at Rideau Memorial Gardens, 4239 Sources Blvd. in Dollard-des-Ormeaus. The family asks that anyone wishing to honour Ella’s memory make a donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

3 comments

  1. I remember this story so well about Ella and I’m so sad to hear of her passing. Through her own struggles she fought for herself and for others to change the system. May her family be comforted knowing she made a difference and that her memory lives on.

  2. I had the chance to get to know ella…she was amazing! I use to do light chores at their house, and ella always had a smile in her face, always positive things to say. I learned a lot from her. I am deeply sorry to hear this and send all my sympathy to her family, Joe my prayers are with you!!!

  3. This just breaks my heart, Ella and I were very close friends in the mid 80′s, how we laughed when we hung out. She loved to sing country music songs and was so good at it. We grew apart when she moved to Quebec, but when we would meet, it was like she never left. I will miss you, my friend..

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