A Dublin woman with stage four kidney cancer has appealed to be given access to a new cancer drug not available through the HSE.
Nivolumab, which costs up to €100,000 per patient a year, was deemed “not cost-effective” earlier this year by the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics Centre.
But Jacinta Kelleher told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that she believes the drug is her only chance of survival.
Since her diagnosis three years ago, the 34-year-old has endured numerous operations to remove her tumours.
“For about a year and a half before, I wasn’t feeling great – constant infection and fatigue,” she said.
“On New Year’s Day, 2013, I woke up with bad pain on the left side of my stomach. I put my hand down and felt a massive lump. The pain was radiating from it.”
She had her kidney removed, along with 18 glands, and was released from hospital after two weeks.
A number of days later, however, she returned to the A&E with internal bleeding. A doctor told her the cancer had spread out of her kidney and into her lymph nodes.
At 31, just months away from her wedding, Jacinta was given five years to live.
She told the Pat Kenny Show: “When we met with the oncologist, she said: ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen. You can go ahead with your wedding in Spain but you could be too sick. There might be more surgery.’”
She and her partner took the advice and scrapped their plans, booking a venue in Ireland.
‘I haven’t even begun to live my adult life’
After getting the all-clear weeks before the ceremony, tests in August 2013 showed the cancer was re-occuring.
The results of her most recent scan have brought more bad news: her current course of drug treatment isn’t working.
Jacinta told the programme that her last option is Nivolumab, also known as Opdivo, a potentially life-extending drug.
“I know it’s a lot of money but this is my life we’re talking about – it’s not a broken arm that needs to be fixed.
“This disease will kill me in the coming years if I don’t get access to something that will help me.
“I’m 34. I was diagnosed at 31. I haven’t even begun to live my adult life yet.
“My husband doesn’t deserve to be a widower at 35-36. It’s unfathomable for him but it’s the reality of our daily life.
“I’ve had to write down passwords and details in a book from him so he has everything in case it happens. It’s harrowing to have to do that at 34 years of age.”
Her petition calling on Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide Nivolumab through the health service has so far been signed by over 12,000 people.