By ROBYN LINDLEY
The birth of young Max in 2011 was close to a miracle for me after a three-year battle cancer.
In 2005, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer after an ulcer haemorrhaged at work causing me to collapse. I had surgery immediately, however tests showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I was then thrown into 12-months of chemotherapy that required me to travel around 6-hours each way to Brisbane every fortnight for treatment.
As well as gaining access to an otherwise prohibitively expensive drug, participating in a clinical trial provided me with other benefits. The care shown by the staff at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane made a big difference to me and being able to share my experience with other cancer patients provided valuable support that doctor’s couldn’t provide. The chemotherapy was a terrible experience for me, especially as I had a young family to look after and I had to stop my business as a hairdresser.
I was eventually clear of cancer for 6 months; however cancer spots were again detected in my liver. It was around this time that I had a genetic test to see whether my tumour was harbouring any mutations. The genetic test involves looking for a gene called KRAS. Everyone and every cell has a KRAS gene. It is responsible for normal communication in cells. But when this gene is faulty or has mutations in it, cancer cells may not respond to one of our modern treatments. It turned out that I had a normal KRAS gene with no mutations in it.
This was great news to me as it meant I was eligible for a new treatment called Erbitux, recommended by my oncologist. It also meant I could avoid another round of debilitating chemotherapy. Back in 2007, Erbitux was not yet listed on the PBS, so the cost of the treatment was approximately $20,000 which required our family to take out a loan. Friends also held a fundraising event to raise $15,000.