Cancer patient's plea to Pharmac to fund $6000/month drug

The AM Show 31/08/2018

A New Zealand mother of three is pleading with MPs and the government's drug-buying agency Pharmac to fund an expensive drug after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Wiki Mulholland, 40, was showering when she discovered a hard mass on her left breast. 

"Because I'm only 40, mammograms weren't part of my thinking at that stage - I thought breast cancer was something for older ladies," she told The AM Show on Friday.

She visited her local GP after consulting with her husband, Malcolm, on May 1, and was diagnosed with breast cancer on May 4. 

"That was a pretty tough day to get that news," she said. 

But after her diagnosis, cancer spread across Ms Mulholland's body before she was able to have a mastectomy. The cancer had spread to her spine, her sternum and the base of her skull. 

She started taking tamoxifen, which tackles hormone-based cancer by preventing the production of oestrogen and breast growth. But the cancer kept spreading and she now has cancer in her lungs as well, so she's now a stage four cancer patient. 

Ms Mulholland now requires a drug called Ibrnace (chemical name palbociclib), which is used to treat advanced breast cancer.

But the treatment is unfunded in New Zealand, so Ms Mulholland has had to undergo chemotherapy which has given her and her husband some time to fundraise for the $6000 a month drug.

Ms Mulholland is one of more than 3000 New Zealand women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. 

"When you're left with that decision you kind of think about… do we sell the house? Do I stop working? Do I cash in KiwiSaver? There's all these things going on for us at the moment and I don't want to make big decisions while I'm sick," she said. 

She's just had her first round of chemotherapy and there will be another round in two weeks' time, which is when doctors will check to see if it has had an effect. 

If the unfunded drug were available in New Zealand, Ms Mulholland said it would give her and other women with breast cancer a better quality of life and it could also prolong life. 

Chemotherapy is "pretty tough," she said, and often has "very hard side-effects with nausea and losing your hair".

The drug she wants does have side-effects, but not as bad as chemotherapy. 

"Some of the clinical trials are showing really good evidence at the moment of about 22 months of wellness for ladies like me," Ms Mulholland said. 

"I've got three kids so I want to be on the sports fields cheering for them."

"We've got huge whanau support and community support around us, but it would just be so fantastic to have [the drug] funded."

The couple has two petitions going before MPs, one which is urging Pharmac to fund the drug and speed up the process, Mr Mulholland told The AM Show. 

The other petition is to "get the drug company to the table" to negotiate the price of the drug at a reasonable cost. 

"I don't begrudge drug companies making a profit, but the margins that they're making a profit at are just horrendous," he said. 

In Australia the drug is available for about AU$39.95 a month, says Ms Mulholland. 

A donation page has been set up for the couple which has generated over $20,000. 

Watch the full interview above.

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