Queenstown father-of-two says news of inoperable cancer was delivered to him by letter

"What do you say to cancer taking hold of your body?"

The answer was quick. No thinking. No hesitation: "Piss off."

Paddy Gower Has Issues met Hamish Macpherson in his Queenstown home, two weeks after we had initially agreed to catch up. Two cancelled fog flights - on my side - and a mercy dash to Dunedin hospital for immunotherapy - his side - had put plans on hold. 

But now, here we were in his bedroom, me in four layers to keep the Queenstown chill at bay, and Hamish in his pyjamas, hair unkempt, under his duvet, eating a marmite Cruskit, after a morning of vomiting.

We were meeting to talk about his cancer. He wasn't well but he was up for it.

And that sums him up. 

Hamish MacPherson loves life; he wants to live life. He's a family man, a successful marriage celebrant, a business manager, a good Kiwi bloke. 

And he's also riddled with cancer.

The 49-year-old husband and father of two was first diagnosed in March last year. He had a lump on his neck - he wasn't worried but his wife Jana - of the Macpherson Diaries fame - insisted he get it checked out. Thankfully, he took her advice.

Tests revealed melanoma - but it could be successfully removed and Hamish was left with a large and permanent visible scar and a new zest for life.

And life was good. Until New Year's Day. 

Hamish's cancer was removed.
Hamish's cancer was removed. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues

Hamish woke feeling off, tired, lethargic and began to sleep - a lot. 

A scan later that month, the follow-up to his melanoma removal, revealed devastating results. And how they were delivered was brutal.

"I received a letter about my diagnosis; that was just a letter, there was no phone call, nothing, they just sent a letter," said Hamish. "For the first time ever, I Googled what it meant, I knew it was quite heavy and quite important and that's when it told me it had spread all through my organs. That was hard to take when you are home with your 6-year-old daughter."

Cancer was now in his brain, lungs, stomach and liver. And it was inoperable.

Hamish Macpherson spent 10 days in hospital.
Hamish Macpherson spent 10 days in hospital. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues

The Macphersons were devastated. But the public health system then delivered another blow. 

"That's when things hit a wall. They got me down to Dunedin for a 5-minute consultation and they said it's spread everywhere, we can't really do anything for you, you've got to go to another department."

But the next available appointment with the new specialist, in the public system, was eight weeks away. Hamish didn't have the luxury of time. 

So, without health insurance, he went private, paying for an oncologist, the scans and his unfunded medication himself. It was lifesaving but expensive.

"The first payment was a phone call to my parents which was pretty hard," he said. "We had just gotten off a phone call from the oncologist and we were saying, 'How do we pay for this?' 

"That was hard. I had to tell my parents and they extended their overdraft, did what they had to do on the farm, they had to dig deep to make that happen."

For a proud, humble Kiwi family, reaching out and asking for help was tough.  

"We are pretty proud people", said Jana. "And so basically you are putting your hand out and that's pretty strange, to be honest."

But financially, they couldn't do this alone. The immunotherapy is $55,000 a pop and the cancer pills, which Hamish dubs the "magic pills", are $5500 a month, 

"I was in hospital for 10 days; I was on the way out...  I started taking these pills [and] 10 days later I left," said Hamish. "That's a miracle-working type-potion."

And then another miracle emerged for the family - the kindness of loved ones and even strangers. They rallied to raise money and give generously to pay for his treatment.

A Givealittle page was set up and black-tie auctions organised. Every item was generously donated and bought at big prices. At one auction alone, at the Winehouse in Gibbston Valley, more than $100,000 was raised.

The generosity, unconditional love and support, have been overwhelming and humbling for the Macphersons.

"What I really wanted to say, probably what we both really wanted to say is thank you," an emotional Jana told the crowd.

And it spurred Hamish on.

"Every time I got up, I gave the cancer an uppercut and I heard you roar, and I appreciate that."

But while the money's poured in, it doesn't go far in the cancer world - $160,000 only covers three immunotherapy sessions.

"The doctors who we talked to said a lot of people don't have $150,000 sitting there waiting for a rainy day or waiting for a cancerous day perhaps," said Jana.

But is it right that this family has to rely on raising funds - even receiving money from strangers - to stay alive in New Zealand? Is our public health system failing sick Kiwis?

"I just think it's broken, it's devastated, it's a war zone," said Hamish.

Hamish said the NZ health system is a "war zone".
Hamish said the NZ health system is a "war zone". Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues

Jana agrees and is devastated not everyone has their overwhelming support.

"We have seen people pass away. It shouldn't be for monetary reasons."

So can people afford to get cancer in New Zealand?".

"No," Jana said simply. "I don't think many people can afford to get cancer in New Zealand. It's just not right or fair."

In a statement, Te Whatu Ora's hospital and specialist services planned care group manager Duncan Bliss said delivering high-quality patient care remained a high priority for the national health service.

"At Te Whatu Ora we are committed to delivering exceptional cancer services to our community and our teams are working tirelessly every day to support our patients and their whanau.

"Patients who have been identified as requiring treatment are prioritised based on clinical need.

"The wait time for follow-up appointments is driven by a clinical decision within the service priority always given to those requiring urgent care."

Bliss acknowledged there were workforce challenges across New Zealand's health system.

"These workforce pressures are not unique to health or just New Zealand," he said.

"We are living through a global shortage of health workers. Countries all over the world are struggling to get the right people with the right skills in the right places to provide excellent care - and our workforce is in demand.

"If a patient is concerned about their access to care, we would encourage them to speak with their treatment team."

Meanwhile, a new incredible package is being auctioned off to raise money for the MacPherson Family. Click here for the details. 

Stream Paddy Gower Has Issues in full on ThreeNow.

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