Tackle life and death issue of cancer drugs lottery, activist urges MLAs
A Co Down campaigner has called on MLAs to stop arguing over trivial issues and address the disparity of cancer treatment in the UK after losing another friend to the disease.
Melanie Kennedy (40), who is living with stage four breast cancer, said that losing friends on an almost daily basis had become a sad reality for her.
"Between the numerous worldwide support groups I am in, I lose friends all the time," she said.
The Bangor mum-of-two reiterated her call for action after receiving the news that a friend lost her battle against cancer on Tuesday night - after being denied life-prolonging treatment readily available in England.
Out of respect for her friend's devastated family she does not want to reveal her name.
"When it's closer to home, it hurts even more," she said.
"In the case of this girl, she was young, fit and healthy when she was struck down with breast cancer a few years ago.
"It was stage four from the start and she was given standard chemotherapy but it stopped working. She then started trial treatment but was not able to avail of PARP inhibitors. They would have helped her."
Research suggests that as many as 20% of breast cancer patients could benefit from PARP inhibitor drugs, but Northern Ireland cancer sufferers are being denied access.
Melanie, who ran as a candidate in the Assembly election last month, said she was appalled when she compared this tragic case to another friend who travels to England for the treatment.
"I know a lady who was told almost three years ago by doctors here that she had six weeks to live, but she's still here and she is doing very well. The doctors had given up on her. They weren't going to give her anything, but three years later she is going on family holidays."
The activist behind the NI Cancer Advocacy Movement, which has been campaigning to improve cancer treatment here, said she was approached daily by people affected by the issue.
"I feel lucky that I am healthy enough to campaign for them but the current political crisis is frustrating, we don't even have a government" she said.
The former accountant said she had lost so much to cancer and was living from scan to scan as she called on politicians to overcome sticking points in political talks.
"It seems to be that they are arguing over things that are not life and death. People are actually dying because of this. The RHI scandal and an Irish Language Act might be important to some, but I think everyone would agree that they're not worth people's lives."