Quebec man stuck in Mexico with cancer after family says back pain ruled out at Canadian hospital

The family of a Quebec man stuck in Mexico is searching for answers after they say he received medical clearance to travel and then found out his cancer had returned while on vacation.

Laurent Bigras and Antonieta Chavez were heading to Cancun for a getaway with their two children in early March when everything quickly took an unexpected and costly turn.

“Our life changed from one day to the next,” Chavez said.

Before her trip, Chavez says her husband recently started experiencing back pain.

Bigras had been diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2020 and underwent chemotherapy at Montreal Sacré-Cœur Hospital until February 2021; he was in remission.

Bigras had gradually returned to work in January 2022, and the back pain began in winter. He visited the same hospital emergency room more than once and made follow-up appointments, according to his wife.

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Chavez says her husband’s blood tests and other tests did not raise any red flags at the time. She also didn’t have other symptoms like the weight loss and sweating that she experienced when she was first diagnosed with cancer.

Bigras received anti-inflammatories to ease the pain. Chavez said the medical team assumed muscle pain was the problem at the time, even when he returned to the ER in pain.

“He took appointments with physical therapists, even a masseur, trying to get better,” Chavez said.

In fact, Chavez says that her husband visited his GP and talked about his upcoming trip. Bigras was told the vacation would be good for him, she said.

“He was in pain, but he had ups and downs,” Chavez said.

Laurent Bigras and his wife Antonieta Chavez on vacation with their two children.

Posted by Antonieta Chavez

He said the family of four vacationed in Cancun for a week in March and the back pain was manageable until the last day. As they headed back to Montreal, Chavez said the pains became so bad on his first flight that Bigras couldn’t walk or eat.

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“Even the kids were like, ‘Oh, Mom, she’s really hurting,’” Chavez said.

The family had to take Bigras to the emergency room during his transfer to Mexico City, where he stayed over the weekend and had to be treated with morphine. They were given medication to control the pain and he was released on Sunday, hoping to go home.

The next day, Chavez says, her husband had to return to the emergency room at Hospital Español. Her pain did not improve, even with high doses of medication.

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The children stayed with Chavez’s father who lives in Mexico while Bigras was readmitted and doctors decided they needed to find out what was causing the pain.

After an X-ray, the medical team of the Spanish Hospital proceeded to an MRI. The doctor showed Chavez a photo of a massive tumor on her husband’s back.

“He (the doctor) said ‘I don’t even know how he’s able to stand up,'” Chavez said. “This is a tumor of almost 40 centimeters. That’s why the pain is so strong.”

Subsequently, a biopsy of the tumor confirmed that the lymphoma had returned. With his delicate health, Bigras has not been able to leave the hospital.

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As her hospital stay dragged on, Chavez had to make the difficult decision to stay with her husband and send her children home so they could attend school. They currently live with her sister in Laval.

Silvia Haidee, Chavez’s sister, said it has been a “difficult time” for the whole family, especially the children.

“They know he’s sick,” he said. “But, sure to them, it’s confusing why his father is in Mexico instead of here.”

In the meantime, Chavez hopes her husband will be in the hospital for at least another week if all goes well.

What the family is now looking into is why doctors at Montreal Sacré-Cœur Hospital reportedly missed Bigras’s cancer after he repeatedly complained of feeling unwell.

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“In Mexico, with a test they found out what happened to him,” Haidee said.

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The CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’île-de-Montréal, the health authority that oversees the hospital, said in a statement that it cannot comment on the patient’s file citing confidentiality.

But the health authority “strongly recommended” that Bigras contact his complaints commissioner.

Meanwhile, the financial costs for the family increase. His insurance has been able to cover a large part of the medical expenses, around $40,000. They started a fundraiser to help as they now owe $12,000 out of their own pocket and that amount is growing.

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