A newly-wed cancer survivor is appealing to the Government to allow stage three melanoma patients access to a drug which, she claims, is saving her life.
Sarah Lane Smith (aged 36) whose stage three melanoma returned aggressively twice believes the drug Nivolumab is the reason she has been tumour-free for almost two years.
The mother-of-three from Navan, Co. Meath, is now pleading with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Meath West TD Damien English to give all newly diagnosed melanoma stage three patients access to the drug.
Last week the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) recommended that the drug be considered for reimbursement for those with melanoma which has spread into lymph nodes or who had surgery to remove the cancer.
However, this funding should only occur if cost-effectivenes can be improved relative to existing treatments, it adds.
Sarah, who is only just home from honeymoon after her wedding, claims that delaying funding approval for this particular type of cancer is "knocking decades off the lives of these new cancer patients".
"I was five months pregnant when I noticed a mole on my back, which was initially dismissed by two different GPs," she said.
"After I gave birth to my son Joey, the mole started to bleed a lot so I told another doctor during my six-week post-natal check-up. That doctor moved straight away to take it off but test results showed that it was malignant melanoma.
"I was 33 with two little girls and a new baby boy. How could I have stage two cancer?"
Subsequent investigative surgery showed the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes and Sarah was 'upgraded' to stage 3B and placed on treatment for a year.
Eight months later, she found a lump under her arm and was found to have developed nine new tumours, all positive for malignant melanoma.
Her treatment was changed but after 10 weeks, another lump was found under her arm pit.
After seven weeks of radiation, Sarah, who is a public patient, says she was offered Nivolumab only and almost two years on, no more tumours have formed.
"This treatment is saving my life and now others aren't going to have the same chance as me unless reimbursement is approved for this particular type of cancer."
In a letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sarah says: "I am appealing for your help in supporting patients diagnosed with stage three melanoma cancer in Ireland. The number of new diagnoses is growing and now stands at over 1100 annually, a quarter of these are under the age of 50.
"I believe Nivolumab is the wonder drug for these stage three patients and I believe if I was given this straight away on my diagnosis, I may not have had to endure all the surgery and radiation.
"By denying this drug to newly-diagnosed stage three patients now, it is knocking decades off their lives."
Co-founder of Melanoma Support Ireland, Kay Curtin, said: "While we are delighted it has been reimbursed for other cancers such as lung recently, we are bitterly disappointed that stage three Melanoma patients are at present, being denied the opportunity to use it to prevent a recurrence of their cancer.
"Expecting them to go home and watch and wait in the knowledge that they have a 50% chance of recurrence is mental torture. This treatment is effective and their best chance for a cancer-free future.
"While the HSE are acknowledging that it is effective, it will not pay for it at the price asked because they say it is not cost-effective relative to existing treatments."
The HSE does fund the drug for a number of cancers including lung cancer, relapsed Hodgkin Lymphoma and renal cell cancer and in combination with impilimumab for melanoma.
In a statement, it said: "The company BMS has applied to the HSE for reimbursement of Nivolumab for the treatment of adults with melanoma with involvement of lymph nodes or metastatic disease who have undergone complete resection.
"These applications are being considered in line with agreed procedures and the reimbursement process is ongoing."
The cost to the HSE for 100mg/10ml of the drug is €1,311.26 and the cost to each patient depends on the length of treatment.