High price of asbestos cancer drug costs a cruel fate
CURRIMUNDI couple Kim and Linda Stokes are being priced out of an asbestos cancer treatment that could extend their precious time together.
While some patients coping with melanoma pay $6.10 for a treatment of immunotherapy drug Keytruda, Mr Stokes' bill is in the order of $11,300.
The difference is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme only covers Keytruda for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma in adults, despite growing evidence it has had positive effects for people fighting mesothelioma.
Ironically, Mr Stokes is a former melanoma patient, having had a cancerous mole removed from his back more than a decade ago.
The 59-year-old and his wife had known for years that his boilermaker apprenticeship at Alcoa of Australia aluminium plant in Geelong could one day catch up with him.
It was common for him to pull on asbestos gloves and welding jackets during his late teens to shield himself from the heat of molten aluminium.
His contact with the deadly substance ended when he completed the apprenticeship but its remnants stayed in his body.
Pain in his chest earlier this year was initially thought to be a broken rib but he could not remember a heavy impact to cause it.
Scans initially showed a shadowed area, which further tests indicated was a tumour.
Mrs Stokes recalled her reaction when it was confirmed in April as malignant plural mesothelioma.
Patients have an average life expectancy of less than a year after diagnosis.
"I can just remember a groan coming out of my mouth because we knew that was the worst possible diagnosis," Mrs Stokes said.
Mr and Mrs Stokes met as children while living in Toowoomba and have been married for the past 38 years.
Their two children and six grandchildren are among those who have rallied to give Mr Stokes a boost in the face of his grim outlook.
He has completed the first of six scheduled rounds of chemotherapy at Sunshine Coast Haematology and Oncology Clinic in Buderim and is due to start round two tomorrow.
His oncologist advised him if he were to try Keytruda treatment, it would cost $11,500 every three weeks for an undetermined time period.
That was a cost the Stokes' could not bear.
Mr Stokes learned of the drug through a campaign by a Tasmanian mesothelioma patient to have it added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The woman, Louise Williams, has had a remarkable return to health since beginning Keytruda treatment earlier this year.
Mr Stokes is supporting her push.
"If it slows things up, other drugs and other things may become available."
Member for Fisher Mal Brough said he had requested a briefing on Keytruda in relation to the scheme.
"I do sympathise with Mr Stokes and other sufferers of mesothelioma as I have seen first-hand the impacts on those who are diagnosed," Mr Brough said.