Melanie's victory as NHS to fund treatment: Cancer drug will now be available for free in NI
A terminally ill single mother is "over the Moon" following a funding U-turn that means she is eligible for a life-prolonging drug that could give her more time with her young sons.
Breast cancer sufferer Melanie Kennedy, who was told she had five years to live in 2014, has just learned that she - along with hundreds of other Northern Ireland women - can now receive Kadcyla on the NHS.
The 'miracle' drug, which the 40-year-old mum-of-two believes offers one of her last hopes of seeing sons Josh (16) and five-year-old AJ grow up, has already cost her almost £10,000.
That's because although it has been available free of charge in Scotland, it was only administered privately here until last month, when the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) struck a deal with Roche, the producers of Kadcyla, to offer it for use on the NHS.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after receiving the news, the former accountant said that although it was a step in the right direction, her fight for cancer drug availability in Northern Ireland was far from over.
"My oncologist told me he'd applied for Kadcyla on my behalf as it can now be accessed and paid for on the NHS on a need basis," she said. "He said he was just sorry that he couldn't get me the money back for the drugs that I'd already paid for.
"Still, it's brilliant news - for this one drug."
The Bangor woman discovered she had breast cancer in January 2013, six months after giving birth to AJ. She subsequently had a mastectomy, chemotheraphy and radiotheraphy as part of her ongoing battle against the disease.
A year after her initial diagnosis, however, doctors told her the cancer had spread to her liver and that her condition was terminal.
But when Melanie realised that Kadcyla - which could help her stay healthy and alive for longer - wasn't available on the NHS here, she launched a Facebook page, NI Cancer Advocacy Movement, and then raised money through crowdfunding.
"I'm a bit disappointed that I had to crowdfund in the first place to be able to get the drug but I'm delighted that it's now available for anybody who needs it in Northern Ireland," she said.
"I'm also determined that it doesn't stop here. There are plenty of other drugs that we can't get because of the postcode lottery and this has made me even more determined to continue campaigning so that we can avail of the same drugs as the rest of the UK."
Up until now Melanie, who said she feels "fantastic", explained she has had "two rounds of kadcyla at £4,500 each", while she also had to "pay for a white cell boosting injection costing £700", which came out of the fundraising kitty.
"In total I raised about £26,000 but some of that went to JustGiving, so I ended up with around £24,000," she explained.
"There will be about £14,000 left over, plus some funds that are still to come in from people who've raised money for me, which is fantastic."
With regard to the excess in the piggy bank, the ardent cancer campaigner said there was a top secret project in the offing.
"Myself and my colleagues have asked permission to use the remaining funds to help other people in my shoes," she said.
"It will take a lot of work so we're not going to reveal what it is just yet, but we hope to make the most of the large pot of money to help everybody who can't access drugs in Northern Ireland."
She added: "With the drugs and treatment available for cancer in the 21st century there's no reason why illnesses can't be managed. That's what I'm trying to change - even if your prognosis is incurable, you can still be around."