Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

New drug off limits for Benalla mum

Benalla mother Kate Wagner is fighting to access a breakthrough melanoma drug that could save her life.

MONIQUE FREER March 28, 2014 4:34am

Kate Wagner was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma after the birth of her son Maclan in July.

‘‘I am incredibly frightened, every day I’m frightened.’’

Benalla mother Kate Wagner is facing scary statistics. She would have an 80 per cent chance of living if Australians had access to a new melanoma drug.

Without it, she faces a 20 per cent chance of survival.

‘‘A lot of the time it doesn’t sink in and I just carry on, and I love my kids and I laugh and I look forward to things but it’s always there, the worry never goes away,’’ Mrs Wagner said.

Mrs Wagner was diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma last July, one week after giving birth to her son Maclan.

After doctors found two tumours in her brain and two in her right lung she had two craniotomies and whole-brain radiation, in anticipation of beginning a clinical trial of the breakthrough new melanoma drug, lambrolizumab.

‘‘My brain was free of disease and I was all free to go on the trial in late December but my oncologist suggested we wait because things were going well in my chest and my lungs,’’ Mrs Wagner said.

‘‘He suggested that we wait on the proviso that there would be better trials coming out early in the new year, and we came to the early new year and things weren’t so great, and the disease was progressing and all of a sudden the trial had closed and there were no new trials.’’

US melanoma patients were granted compassionate access to the promising anti PD-1 drug earlier this month, but Australian patients may have to wait for more than one year for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to approve its subsidised use here.

‘‘I don’t understand why Australia is so slow in using drugs that are proving to save lives overseas,’’ Mrs Wagner said.

‘‘What is the TGA waiting for? While the patients are waiting we’re dying.’’

Without access to the PD-1 melanoma drug Mrs Wagner has started treatment on Yervoy, which has just a 20 per cent success rate.

‘‘(It) doesn’t offer great statistics at 20 per cent but I’m young and I’m healthy — so fingers crossed, I guess,’’ she said.

‘‘People with stage four cancer don’t care about side effects, they want a chance to live and I feel they’re denying us that.’’

After the anger of missing out on the trial Mrs Wagner began pursuing other drug trials in the US, however exorbitant costs made the trip prohibitive.

‘‘We ran into a brick wall, the costs in America associated with it are too extreme,’’ she said.

With no recurrence in the brain and no new cancer, Mrs Wagner’s concern is her lungs.

‘‘(My oncologist) said that everything is okay in my lung at the moment, but he said give it three months and things would start happening.

‘‘It’s not written in stone or anything — nobody can tell me my story and I feel good at the moment.’’

Mrs Wagner says something needs to happen and is calling on Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to help her find ways to bring about change.

‘‘I just wanted advice from Cathy because I’ve never lobbied the government for anything before, I’ve never stood out there with a placard, but this just seems completely nonsensical,’’ she said.

Ms McGowan told the Ensign last week that she was only too happy to provide assistance to Mrs Wagner’s plight.

‘‘My job is to listen to what constituents have to say and advocate on their behalf,’’ Ms McGowan said.

‘‘It’s exactly what I’d dearly love to do with her.’’

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