Opinion: Dear Jacinda Ardern, my mother could die because of you

  • 06/02/2019

OPINION: Dear Prime Minister,

This is an open letter regarding an issue, a very serious one, and one in which you have failed to address.

The issue is cancer.

In August 2018, on my 22nd birthday my mum was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 57.

This means it's advanced. It's spread to distant parts of the body and it's incurable.

The news tore my family apart. It crushed me knowing that my best friend and the woman who loves me unconditionally is dying and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

But you know what made it worse? The fact that her life expectancy is half of what it would be if she lived in another developed country. Simply because New Zealand fails to support and fund lifesaving cancer treatments.

Let me make that plainer.

The average life expectancy of a woman diagnosed with Advanced Breast Cancer (or ABC) in New Zealand is just 18 months.

Compare this to the 3-5 year life expectancy in our Australian, British and European counterparts.

More than six hundred New Zealand women die of Advanced Breast Cancer every year. Six hundred women won't see their next birthday or wedding anniversary or Christmas.

Thousands more will die from other forms of advanced cancer.

Yet the Government continues to turn a blind eye.

The situation is so dire; world leading oncologists are now visiting us in desperate attempts to convey the seriousness of the situation. To ask why, as a developed country, cancer patients are dying prematurely.

Ms Ardern, in 2017 Kiwis gave you the chance to lead them. They admired your will to get the job done and supported the policies you promised to fulfil.

Elizabeth White.
Elizabeth White. Photo credit: Supplied / Love, Elizabeth

Let me remind you that during your campaign you promised all New Zealanders world class cancer treatment.

In case you've forgotten (because it seems you have), you also promised that ALL New Zealanders get the same standard of cancer care no matter where in the country they live.

You said cancer patients would be supported with Labour's $8 billion health investment.

You vowed to streamline cancer care in New Zealand by establishing a National Cancer Agency.

It's almost two years later and so far all you've done is let us down and another 1200 families like mine have had to bury their mum.

How many more have to die before their time? What will it take to get what we deserve? To get what other countries have had for years?

And let me pose this to you:

What if it was you?

Or your mother?

Your sister?

Your best friend?

Your aunt?

What if it was your daughter, Neve? What then?

I can't imagine you settling with the current treatment plan. I doubt you'd demand more trials (despite there already being successful ones) and fail to allocate specific funding to cancer treatment.

I don't think you would still be waiting for funding approval two years on from those promises when the life expectancy of ABC is 18 months. If you did you could already be dead!

Do you see how ridiculous it is now?

And now I'm going to get personal.

Do you know how it feels knowing that in a year your mother could be dead because the Government she's lived and worked under since she was a child won't give her the support she needs?

I feel sick to my stomach every single day, unsure of what my mum's future holds. The anxiousness is constant but the waves of panic usually come when I'm alone or when I'm triggered by seeing a poster for the Cancer Society, or when I overhear conversations about the disease, or when someone asks how my mum is.

I find myself sobbing uncontrollably out of fear and heartbreak multiple times a week and I am terrified thinking about what is to come.

I'm disgusted and ashamed when I think about the treatment plan my mum has on offer: a handful of chemo options and a one way ticket to Hospice.

There are drugs available that are known to extend the life of women with ABC but the New Zealand Government has shut down calls to fund them. To fund them yourself for a year would cost you at least $60,000. An astronomical amount that is out of reach for the majority of patients.

My heart breaks for the women who can't front up that kind of money. Who know there is something that can give them more time (the one thing they want) but that they can't have, and because of that they will die.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in New Zealand, to not fund lifesaving treatments for those who fall victim to it says a lot about those in charge.

And how about we take a moment to name and shame the things the Government will instead choose to spend tax payer money on.

A $100 million "support package" so that we can host the America's Cup in 2021.

$234 million into the Government's failed KiwiBuild scheme.

Most recently $100 million so that Maori can develop land they already own in the regions, 80 percent of which may not even be able to be developed.

And just to add fuel to the fire, erectile dysfunction medication is Government subsidised and available over the counter.

Real life changing stuff apparently. I must have missed the memo when Labour announced saving lives wasn't a priority.

It's also shameful that my father, who is desperate to help his wife, can't even get an email back from the Health Minister.

As I write this I have tears of frustration falling down my face.

My mum does not live in the facade of the pink ribbons, the fundraising walks, the stories of survivors.

For her, cancer is not a speed bump; it's a matter of life and death.

Now my family, along with countless others, live scan to scan... in three month gulps where it literally feels like you're holding your breath. And depending on the results you either breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that she will be fine until Christmas/her birthday/the family holiday... or you feel your chest constrict even further, the dark thoughts enter your mind and you find yourself unable to see the way forward.

Prime Minister, cancer is not political but somehow you've made it just that. You hold the power and the key to peoples' lives.

Because of you people will either live or die. Why is that choice yours and more importantly, why is it even a choice at all?

This article was re-published from Elizabeth White's blog Love, Elizabeth