When Tracy Barr-Smith woke up and checked her phone, she wondered if she was still in a dream.

The terminally-ill Tauranga woman was inundated with messages after Pharmac announced a provisional deal to cover the cost of Ibrance, an expensive life-prolonging treatment she has spent nearly two years fighting for.

At least 2000 women could begin receiving the drug by as early as April.

Since 2018 Barr-Smith, who is part of the Metavivor advocacy group, helped lead the charge in calling for funding for the drug. She created petitions, marched on Parliament steps and presented to the Health Select Committee for the cause.

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Yesterday morning, learning of the Government drug-buying agency's funding brought tears of joy and pure relief, she said.

"It's brilliant. It's so good. But it's still sad because we still lost women who should have been on it," she said.

"We know women who have sold their homes, taken out Kiwisaver, life insurance, giving everything [to privately fund Ibrance]. But the thing is we've done this not just for ourselves but for those going forward so that they don't have to."

Barr-Smith has lost count of the women she has known who have died of cancer within the past year.

Barr-Smith herself is living with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. It's a terminal diagnosis but Ibrance has long been heralded by patients as a game-changer treatment to extend and improve people's lives. The treatment, which up until now cost $6000 to $7000 a month, will be her next.

"As a cancer patient, you are constantly feeling that you are sitting on a time bomb until these little cancer suckers are going to find a way around things," Barr-Smith said.

"I think that will constantly be how it is until maybe they cure this blasted thing, which they are getting closer and closer to."

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Tracy Barr-Smith, pictured in October 2018, talks about living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Photo / File
Tracy Barr-Smith, pictured in October 2018, talks about living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Photo / File

Barr-Smith said she believed the funding was the result of public pressure.

"It just shows that a group of citizens can change things. We can change the system and we need to change the system because the system is broken."

In addition to her fight for Ibrance funding, Barr-Smith was also throwing her weight behind a petition to double Pharmac's budget from the Government.

"Hopefully we are starting to set a precedent for how these can change," she said.

If all goes to plan Ibrance could be in patients' hands from April 1. It will cover first and second-line treatments, making New Zealand one of the first countries in the world to do so.

Metavivors Sue Wall-Cade and Tracy Barr-Smith are both living with cancer but didn't let that stop them from presenting a petition to Parliament in 2018. Photo / Supplied
Metavivors Sue Wall-Cade and Tracy Barr-Smith are both living with cancer but didn't let that stop them from presenting a petition to Parliament in 2018. Photo / Supplied

Barr-Smith is also part of cancer support group Sweet Louise, which has lost 205 of its 700 members within the past year.

Chief executive Philippa Reed said the funding was "really going to make a difference".

"There are so many women who need this and it's a fantastic step."

Pharmac - which makes its decisions independently of politicians - said in September it was mulling Ibrance and taking offers from other suppliers, shortly after the Government gave the agency an extra $60 million over two years.

Sweet Louise chief executive Philippa Reed stands in front of photos of Anna Southern who was one of their members and who died. Photo / File
Sweet Louise chief executive Philippa Reed stands in front of photos of Anna Southern who was one of their members and who died. Photo / File

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt told NZME the agency had spent the time since finding potential competitor treatments to be able to leverage a better deal.

"We have to be absolutely sure that the next $100m we spend, we're spending it on the right medicine," Fitt said.

"I know that's no consolation to patients and their families, because they want it now."

While Fitt said consultation should be straightforward, no final decision had been made and the agency needed to make sure the final eligibility criteria was right.

Pfizer Australia and New Zealand managing director Melissa McGregor said more than 600 Kiwi women were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer every year.

"Access to targeted treatments like Ibrance, which enable New Zealand patients to live well and for longer without their disease progressing, is crucial for people with advanced cancer."

Pharmac last year had a budget of just over $1 billion.

- Additional reporting NZME