On Mother's Day in 2015, Leisa Renwick was diagnosed with stage-four melanoma.

Now, the Tauranga mother of three is in remission and is a fierce cancer campaigner who has been unveiled as an ambassador for an Australasia cancer advocacy group.

When Renwick was diagnosed, she was told there was nothing doctors could do and she had just weeks to live. Little did she know that would be the beginning of a bold campaign to make treatment for melanoma more available.

"I feel an obligation to speak out, I really do," she said.


Renwick's life was saved when husband Wayne found a private oncology specialist who administered her with the melanoma drug pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda).

Leisa Renwick while on the road to remission in 2017. Photo / File
Leisa Renwick while on the road to remission in 2017. Photo / File

Against all odds, the treatment saved her life.

She went on to become a cancer advocate and campaigned for the drug, which costs $8500 a week, to become available to all New Zealanders with advanced melanoma.

Renwick's petition to Parliament, in the midst of her own cancer battle, requested extra funding for Pharmac so Keytruda could become more accessible received more than 11,000 signatures.

She had been in long-term remission and off treatment since May last year and is now a vocal advocate for regular skin checks by an accredited skin cancer doctor.

Renwick did not believe New Zealanders fully understood the risks of melanoma. Once someone reached stage four, it was likely they were beyond saving.

Prevention and being aware of the risk factors, such as sun-damaged skin, were vital, she said.

So was early detection.


"I have three children, all in their early 20s, and as part of their birthday gift they receive a skin cancer check from an accredited skin cancer doctor," she said.

If skin cancer was caught early, it increased the chance of nipping it in the bud and reducing the cost of treatment later.

If someone did have skin cancer, particularly at stage four, access to the right treatment was crucial and this could be expensive, she said.

"Skin Cancer College Australasia is also using education, research, advocacy and standards to ensure accessible and accurate skin cancer diagnosis and management is available to all New Zealanders."

Leisa Renwick's past four years

May 2015:

Diagnosed with stage four melanoma and given weeks to live. Told no treatment available in public system. Started taking dabrafenib, a gene therapy drug, which costs $12,000 a month.

August 2015: Tests showed her cancer had shrunk. But she was told the cancer would become resistant to dabrafenib.

October 2015: She switched to pembrolizumab, better known as Keytruda, which costs $8500 every three weeks.

November 2015: Starts petition to Parliament requesting more funding for Pharmac to provide pembrolizumab for those with advanced melanoma.

March 2016: Presents petition of 11,085 signatures on steps of Parliament.

May 2016: Government announces $39 million funding boost for Pharmac.

June 2016: Pharmac announces Keytruda will be publicly funded from September.

August 2016: Renwick makes submission on petition to Health Select Committee, unusual because the petition was already successful.

December 2016: Named the Herald's New Zealander of the Year.

May 2018: In long-term remission and came off treatment.

April 2019: Announced as Skin Cancer College Australasia's New Zealand ambassador.