All Melissa Baker wants for her 40th birthday this week is the chance of more precious time with her two young children.
But for that, the Mount Eliza mother, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, needs a cancer medication.
The drug, Brentuximab Vedotin, is easy for patients in the United States, Britain, and New Zealand to get.
But in Australia, it is not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for Ms Baker’s illness.
She has had to raise more than $150,000 to pay for her own treatment.
“I want to be here and see my kids grow up,” she said.
“Having this drug is hopefully going to get me to a position where I can have another stem cell transplant that will cure me, so I will be around for a long time,” Ms Baker said.
“It wouldn’t open the floodgates, because in Australia there wouldn’t be a huge number of people in need of this. You have to have a failed stem cell transplant to be eligible,” she said.
Diagnosed in July 2013 with stage 3A Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Ms Baker had an initial 12 rounds of chemotherapy, then two stronger rounds, and a stem cell transplant.
Unable to afford the $10,600 cost for each of 16 recommended Brentuximab Vedotin treatments, Ms Baker was thrown a lifeline when Lymphoma Australia began helping her to raise funds, and she was able to broker a slightly reduced price from the drug’s manufacturer.
After the first three doses of the drug, the lymphoma disappeared from her chest, lungs and bone marrow. Scans next week will show its effect on the remaining cancer in her neck.
“It is working, but I am having to fund-raise,” Ms Baker said.
Lymphoma Australia chief executive officer Sharon Milman said the subsidy process needed a radical overhaul.
“We are not asking the Government to fund everything,” Ms Milman said.
“What we are needing is to have a sequence of treatments that will give the best outcome.”
Kay McNiece, for the federal Health Department, said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee would consider a submission to list Brentuximab Vedotin for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March.
She said it also might be possible for treating doctors of patients not able to get medicines through the PBS to apply to public hospitals for assistance with the cost of the drugs.
Republished with permission Herald Sun January 13, 2015.