Petition calls on government to fund more lung cancer medications

This story was originally published on RNZ

A woman whose husband died of lung cancer last year is delivering a petition to parliament calling on the government to fund more lung cancer medications.

Lung cancer is diagnosed in about 2200 New Zealanders a year and more than 1600 people die from it each year.

Patricia Guttenbeil, whose husband Jason died of lung cancer last year, was today handing her petition to National MP Simon O’Connor, along with others from patient advocacy groups signed by more than 21,000 people.

She told First Up she used savings and family and and friends did fundraising to find $70,000 for her husband to have the cancer drug Keytruda.

She said after a persistent cough followed by pneumonia, Jason was diagnosed in 2017 with stage four lung cancer and given between eight weeks and ten months to live.

“It was the worst day of our life, the worst news you could ever hear.

“He was always a healthy guy, he was never the one who would get sick, he took care of his health, he never smoked – we were just in shock.”

Chemotherapy drugs appeared to make no difference, she said, so the family decided to pay for Keytruda which she was told would cost around $13,000 every three weeks.

“I wanted to do everything I could to help my husband improve his quality of life. It was terrible to watch him just dying on the couch.”

She said the medicine made a huge difference, enabling her husband to get up and go out with family.

“He wasn’t as breathless and coughing all the time … in his words, he said ‘it got me off the couch’.

“It gave him about six months of really good quality of life and he lived about 11 months.

“It was worth it.”

The petition is being presented along with other petitions from several patient advocacy groups signed by more than 21,000 people. Pharmac has declined to comment for this story.