In a five-part series, the Herald investigates controversies in cancer testing and treatment and reports on the moving stories of people afflicted with cancer. In the first part of the series, Herald health reporter Martin Johnston turns his attention to breast cancer

Tracey Eising's breast cancer has hit her in waves. She fears the latest surge will overcome her, unless a sea of cash can be found to pay for a new medicine.

She was first diagnosed with the disease at age 37 in 2004 when the youngest of her four children was 7. Cancer cells had already spread to a lymph node and she was told she had a 75 per cent chance of recurrence following treatment.

The tumour was cut from her breast and she received chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The future began to look good.

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"I had five years of thinking that everything was fine," says Ms Eising, (right) now 48 and a grandmother. "I found out right on the cusp of my five-year cancer-free celebration that it had come back."

The disease had spread to bones, one lung and her liver and it was thought she had only a month to live.

She was given chemotherapy, Herceptin and Tamoxifen, and six months later there was no evidence of disease, a happy state that persisted for three years. "And then it came back in one of my ovaries."

The ovary was removed and she was given different chemotherapy in addition to Herceptin.

Late last year, scans showed tumours in the liver and Ms Eising was put on yet another chemotherapy drug. This has shrunk the tumours but is causing debilitating side effects.

Tracey Eising, aged 48, of Blenheim. She has advanced breast cancer. Photo / Supplied
Tracey Eising, aged 48, of Blenheim. She has advanced breast cancer. Photo / Supplied

"The only option left for me is Kadcyla."

But she cannot afford to pay for this drug, which is not state funded and could cost her more than $100,000.

She notes Kadcyla is government-funded in Australia and says: "We are not a Third World country and if Australia have it, why can't we."


Kadcyla's maker hasn't sought Pharmac funding for the drug, but Ms Eising says the Government should instruct health authorities to fund it anyway, as it did with Herceptin in 2008 to fulfil an election promise.

"I have got a grandbaby due in December - my 20-year-old eldest boy's and I want to see him be a dad."

"I feel discouraged that I will probably die knowing this drug is being used in New Zealand and I can't access it due to its cost and in Australia it has been funded since July 1," Ms Eising says.

"I don't want to die unnecessarily early, no one would want to. it's a bit of a smack in the face really, knowing the medicine is here but being unable to access it."

In June she appealed to Prime Minister John Key to fund Kadcyla, saying: "I know if it were happening to your wife you would be seeking all the treatments in the world, too."

His office told her it sent her email to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman but she has not had a reply.

Dr Coleman's spokeswoman told the Herald: "There was an error in the office, and her letter should have had a ministerial reply. It will be responded to urgently."