Belfast Telegraph

Case Studies: We speak to three women living with cancer

By Victoria O'Hara

Helen Ward from Ballycastle, Co Antrim, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2011. She was given six months to live, but was prescribed the drug Gefitnib.

Speaking three years later, Helen (71), who is supporting the UK Lung Cancer Coalition's awareness campaign, said it is vital that people in Northern Ireland are given the opportunity to access any potentially life-extending drugs.

"I had a cough over a period of four to five weeks," she said.

"I took all the medication I could from the pharmacist but then I became a little bit breathless and I went to the GP.

"I was immediately sent for an X-ray. I had it on the Monday, the next day at 9.30am my GP rang and said she would like me to go into hospital.

"I had tests done and as a result of that I found out I had terminal cancer.

"I was very, very shocked. I was then a very active 69-year-old non-smoker. It was inoperable, but there was a reasonable new drug targeted at the particular cancer that I had and which hopefully would prolong my life a little bit.

"My oncologist had to get funding for it, which he did amazingly quickly for me. I started the medication at the end of June.

"I was first told my life expectancy was six months, then starting the medication it was hoped I would have one-and-a-half to one year nine months, and now I've just finished my third year. Had it not been for the medication I would have been dead a long ago.

"Everybody should have an opportunity, if there is a drug they feel or know would extend their life, they should 100% have the chance to access that.

"Not everyone has been as lucky. It is a slow progressing cancer, but the medication has kept me alive. It has slowed the growth of the cancer longer, I think, than has been expected."

Una Crudden, a mother-of-five from Poleglass in west Belfast, was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in 2011.

"I was originally misdiagnosed.

"My GP told me I had irritable bowel syndrome, but I didn't drink or smoke. I walked six miles a day. If I can get ovarian cancer, it can happen to any woman out there.

"By the time I went back to a doctor two months later I had swollen so much that I looked like I was heavily pregnant with twins.

"The tumour was 13 inches, and had spread to my pelvis. I could feel it sticking into my bones, but nothing could be done. Then I decided to spread awareness about the signs of ovarian cancer.

"But I wasn't able to access the cancer drug Avastin – I will never know if I had taken it, would it have helped extend my life.

"I was never given that option.

"I think the fact that people can't access a drug that could help save their life because they live in Northern Ireland is a disgrace. For somebody to be denied that – a chance to live longer, but if they lived in London they are given that chance, it is in my eyes a breach of a human right."

Ann Adair (54) from east Belfast was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

"It is a case of when it will come back, not if. I just want to think if I am suitable that I would have access to any drug that could extend my life.

"I had to pay privately for the tests which finally confirmed I had cancer.

"Like so many other women, I had been misdiagnosed at the start. When I was first diagnosed I had never heard of Avastin. It wasn't something that was offered to me or that I was told anything about.

"I had to undergo a full hysterectomy and had my ovaries removed. It is just unfair. To hear the words that your time is running out is just heartbreaking.

"Then, to think that there is a drug that could give you a longer life, but because you live in Northern Ireland you can't access it, is just indescribable. It is a grave inequality.

"I am a grandmother and I want to know that if there is a chance I can spend another few years with my grandchildren and my family, I want to get that chance. It should be the decision of the clinicians, the experts and patients – not the politicians – as to who gets these drugs."

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