Rare cancer treatment not funded in NZ

LEANNE BACHOP: "I'll keep going as long as I can."
LEANNE BACHOP: "I'll keep going as long as I can."

Leanne Bachop knows her prognosis is not good but is refusing to give up.

The 45-year-old sister of former All Blacks Graham and Stephen Bachop was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer - neuro endocrine tumours (NETs) - just after the February 2011 earthquake.

She came close to death twice during three major surgeries - including one to remove more than 70 per cent of her liver - but the once slow-growing cancer is now aggressive and has spread into her spine, bones and new liver.

"To wake up every day is a bonus. Even when I have a bad time, I'm happy to be alive to have a bad day. It's up to me to keep moving forward, " she said.

Her remaining option is to undergo a highly specialised and targeted treatment called peptide receptor radionucide therapy (PRRT).

However, the treatment is only available in Australia, meaning it is not funded by New Zealand's public health system or medical insurance.

Bachop needs to raise $50,000 for the treatment and related expenses at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. She is not waiting for the funds to arrive though and has already booked in her first round of PRRT for June.

"My prognosis isn't looking good. This is going to be the thing that gives me an opportunity, " she said. "I've got a side of me that just won't give up. I'll keep going as long as I can."

Bachop urged people to visit their doctor or "go for that scan" if they felt something was wrong.

"Early detection could save your life dramatically. Follow your own instinct and go that bit further. It's your life."

The Unicorn Foundation, a charity supporting people with NETs, says it usually takes about seven years for the disease to be diagnosed.

Executive director Siobhan Conroy said there were believed to be about 1500 people with NETs in New Zealand, with about 250 new cases of the rare cancer being diagnosed each year.

Despite the growing awareness, almost all patients had to pay for their own treatment, as PRRT was unavailable in New Zealand and Pharmac was declining most requests for assistance.

"In Australia it's funded. Here, you basically have to pay for your own treatment. It's really frustrating for the patient."

Conroy hoped Bachop's story would encourage more people suffering from NETs to speak out.

"The more we come together, the more of a voice we have for Pharmac, so we can keep lobbying."

Visit www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/supportleannebachop to support Leanne Bachop or visit her Facebook page to follow her journey.

The Press