Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Every step 'a small victory' for asbestos cancer sufferer Deanna Trevarthen

Deanna Trevarthen has had positive results using Keytruda. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Deanna Trevarthen has had positive results using Keytruda. Photo / Jason Oxenham

In February, asbestos cancer sufferer Deanna Trevarthen was given three weeks to live. Tumours had devastated her body, her weight had plummeted to 33kg and she was slipping away in hospice care.

Now, after spending $100,000 on seven self-funded rounds of "miracle" immunotherapy drug Keytruda, her tumours are shrinking, the excruciating pain is subsiding and Trevarthen is preparing for her next fight - to change ACC legislation.

Earlier this month Trevarthen's family presented evidence at a hearing with ACC, hoping to overturn its decision not to compensate the Auckland woman. A ruling is expected within two months.

Cancer specialists treating the 45-year-old believe she was exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres as a 10-year-old with her electrician father at work.

But ACC legislation states Trevarthen doesn't qualify for compensation because she was not employed in the industry.

Trevarthen's partner, Greg Robertson, said there was no doubt she accidentally inhaled the deadly asbestos fibres, and said linking compensation to employment was unfair and outdated.

He said the two months ACC had to review the latest evidence was too long when dealing with a fast-moving disease like cancer. "Fighting asbestos cancer has cost us more than $100,000 and Deanna does worry about that," Robertson said.

"We have had to call on help from family, but compensation would remove the financial stress and Deanna could just concentrate on getting well."

Expensive rounds of Keytruda had "provided a miracle". Large tumours on Trevarthen's back had almost disappeared and a "tricky" tumour on her lung was improving enough for doctors to treat it with radiation.

"Every step with cancer is a small victory, but the word miracle has been mentioned a lot."

ACC minister Nikki Kaye has been following Trevarthen's progress and in January she said she would review the law "within three-six months".

Robertson said immediate action needed to be taken. "This is about people's lives, it is not the flag change or what is happening with Brexit."

Kaye said the review had started but it was complex and covered several areas.

Even if she did recommend changes to the law after the review, they would first need to go through the appropriate Cabinet and Parliamentary processes, including consideration in the House and by Select Committee.

Keytruda decision soon

Pharmac has closed its consultation period on Keytruda and will soon decide whether to fund it. The use and funding of the immunotherapy drug has been widely debated and a 54,000-strong petition calling for funding was presented to Parliament in March.

The drug, also known as pembrolizumab, is given by infusion in hospital and is funded in the UK, Australia and the US for advanced melanoma and used for lung cancers such as mesothelioma. Pharmac started funding a similar drug, Opdivo, this month.

To donate to Deanna: givealittle.co.nz/cause/deesday

- Herald on Sunday

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