Cancer drug saves Masterton war veteran

By Hayley Gastmeier hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz -
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Melanoma survivor and Masterton Returned Services Association president Bob 'Bukit' Hill with his wife Catherine. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Melanoma survivor and Masterton Returned Services Association president Bob 'Bukit' Hill with his wife Catherine. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Since recovering from suspected incurable melanoma, 73-year-old Bob 'Bukit' Hill jumped off Auckland's Sky Tower, received his first tattoo, and has taken up training for a half-marathon, which he will walk next month.

The president of the Masterton Returned Services Association was told in 2013 that he could be dead within six months, but today he is full of life and checking off his bucket list.

Mr Hill beat melanoma thanks to a clinical drug trial that cleared the cancer which had spread to his lungs and liver and caused regrowth of a large tumour in the wall of his chest.

Now 18 months in the clear and after a string of adventures including a ride on the Huka Jet, he has splashed out on some top-of-the-range sneakers and is walking 7km to 14km a day.

He is training for a May half-marathon, where he'll take on 21km to show others with melanoma "that there is hope out there".

The Masterton grandfather is advocating for the melanoma drug which extended his life, pembrolizumab, to be made available to others suffering from the disease. He recently presented a petition to Parliament urging this, and said he was doing the marathon "to try and make the New Zealand Government and Pharmac aware that the drug is successful".

Mr Hill said he was frustrated Pharmac would not fund the drug and, although they had approved it, they had classed it a low priority.

"Stage four metastasis melanoma, there is no cure for it -- all they can give you is palliative care. So this is the only drug to be proved successful," he said. "I know people in their early 20s who are dying because they can't get access to it."

New Zealand was like a Third World country when it came to approving drugs, Mr Hill said. "We're not keeping up with the rest of the world."

The former regimental sergeant major, who served in Southeast Asia, said it was about giving others a second chance as he had been so fortunate to receive.

Just Monday, Mr Hill shocked his family with a new tattoo on his forearm -- V 2 Coy -- which commemorates 50 years since serving with his company, Victory 2 Company.

"I just want to be alive so I can continue to serve the veterans for as long as I can."

Mr Hill said since falling ill, he appreciated his loved ones more than before.

"When you get a second chance it puts a different perspective on the way you look at life. Little things don't get to you anymore and you look forward to each day as it comes."

Mr Hill said the disease was like a "death sentence". "I just want people to have the same opportunity that I had."

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