Belfast Telegraph

Cancer drugs campaigner Melanie Kennedy running for Assembly seat

By Claire O'Boyle

Cancer campaigner Melanie Kennedy vowed to take on Stormont's traditional warring parties if the Assembly collapsed - and she's sticking to her word.

The mum-of-two, who was told she had just five years to live in 2014, will launch her election campaign officially next week as she stands as an Independent in North Down.

Melanie already has an electoral agent in place, her manifesto is almost ready to go and her campaign pictures are happening today.

"I said I'd do it, and I will," she said. "People are sick of hearing the same old thing and they genuinely want a change. Bickering and endless blame gets us nowhere, and neither does the old orange and green politics.

"I'm not interested in that, I want to actually get things done while I can."

Melanie, who turns 40 just days after the election in March, discovered she had breast cancer in January 2013, six months after her second son, AJ, was born.

The disease had developed during her pregnancy but despite a visit to specialists three months after AJ's arrival, it wasn't detected straight away. She had a mastectomy as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy and was initially optimistic about her prospects.

"I was young, and otherwise healthy," she said. "So when my treatment ended I thought that I'd made it through the worst experience of my life and that things were going to get better."

But sadly, worse was to come. A year after her initial diagnosis, doctors broke the news that Melanie's cancer had spread to her liver and that her condition was terminal. "The next few months were like living in a nightmare," she said. "It sounds like a cliché, but I don't know how else to describe it.

"The most horrific thing I've ever had to do in my life, other than tell my mum Christine I was never getting better, was telling my son Josh. He was only 11 at the time."

A slap in the face for former accountant Melanie came when she realised drugs that could help her stay healthy and alive for longer weren't available to her - or anyone else in Northern Ireland. It was then, after learning these specialist drugs were widely available in England, that she became publicly active and launched her Facebook page NI Cancer Advocacy Movement.

"I could break the law to get these drugs," she said. "I could lie and pretend I lived in England and get them there because of a crazy postcode lottery.

"But why should I go through that? And it's not just me, it's around 700 people with cancer whose lives could be improved hugely with the right drugs. But because we live here, for the moment we can't get them."

Melanie's tireless campaigning has already started to make inroads. This week she met outgoing Health Minister Michelle O'Neill, who announced a 10-week consultation about funding access to specialist cancer drugs, medication that could not only prolong health but save lives. "I'm over the moon we've made that step forward," Melanie said. "But there are so many other things people really care about that the current parties at Stormont just aren't sorting, like autism support and mental health services."

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