This week, the Herald is speaking to Kiwis who have survived illnesses, accidents and crimes that almost killed them, as part of our I Should be Dead series.

Jason Guttenbeil was told he'd be dead by now but thanks to a "miracle drug" he's still here and planning for the future.

The 45-year-old father of four was given six to nine months to live when he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in May.

He started to feel unwell in April and doctors eventually found a 7cm tumour in his lungs. By that stage he was bed-ridden and barely moved from the couch each day.


After two rounds of chemotherapy nothing had changed so he and his family decided to try a different approach.

In July he had his first infusion of Keytruda, which is administered every three weeks.

Within six weeks his tumour had halved in size, the cancer on his hip and spine was disappearing and the fluid in his lungs was dissipating.

He described it as a "miracle drug" when the Herald spoke to him in September.

The Auckland man had hoped his next scan would show an even smaller tumour but since then he's hit what he called "a bit of a hiccup".

Scans showed his tumour had grown about 1cm but he remained positive.

"Without [Keytruda] I definitely wouldn't be here," he said.

"I've carried on with Keytruda and I've had to look at my chemo and a bit of radiation as well, which is working for me. I still feel confident, I still have a lot of positivity and I'm still out and about but I do have aches and pains in the bones which I'm trying to deal with at the moment.


"So it hasn't all been terrific news but if I look at where I was to where I am now, I'd take it every day."

Jason Guttenbeil was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given 6-9 months to live but Keytruda is keeping him alive. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Jason Guttenbeil was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given 6-9 months to live but Keytruda is keeping him alive. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Initially most of his bone cancers were healing but now about half were improving while half were growing, however all the fluid around his heart had cleared up.

"It's a bit of a mixed bag," Guttenbeil said.

While he had gone back to work part-time after his initial success with Keytruda, the family man had decided to take more time off to focus on getting better and spend the summer with his family.

He had been planning a trip away to the Pacific islands or America but would now spend summer enjoying the beaches between Auckland and Northland so he could continue his treatment.

Despite the setback Guttenbeil still planned to head overseas for a big trip at some stage.

For now, he was hoping for good news at his next scan and remained passionate about doing his part to make sure the expensive drug, which is currently only funded for the treatment of certain types of melanoma, was available to all Kiwis.

Guttenbeil's family raised more than $69,000 through Givealittle to pay for the nine Keytruda infusions he has had so far which have cost almost $60,000, plus an administration fee of $2000 each time.

While drug company Merck, Sharp and Dohme waive the cost of the drug once a patient has spent $60,000 on it there were many who could not raise the tens of thousands needed to pay for the treatment to start with, he said.

"I still see there are a lot of benefits from it," he said. "It's still new and cancer has got a way of fighting back but I'm still much better off than where I was."