Not long ago Pamela Jones would have been told to get her affairs in order and sent home to die.
Instead she has a future and is looking forward to seeing her daughter graduate and retiring and travelling with her husband.
The 54-year-old is one of 223 New Zealanders who received the immunotherapy drug Keytruda in the first five months it was funded by Pharmac.
Four years ago doctors found melanoma deposits when the Auckland woman had a mole cut out of her back.
She had surgery to have it all removed but a few months later she noticed blue dots around her groin area.
The cancer had spread.
She was diagnosed with stage three BRAF+ melanoma: it was inoperable.
“I just remember thinking, ‘this is really serious’. I didn’t realise how quickly cancer could spread,” Jones said.
“If you weren’t scared you wouldn’t be normal. It is frightening but you learn how to handle it. You have to make light of it.”
Jones was lucky. There was a new drug being used to treat her type of cancer, although trials showed it didn’t work forever. For most people the cancer started coming back about 10 months in.
She was able to get the drug, Dabrafenib, on compassionate grounds meaning she did not have to find the $21,000 a month it would usually cost.
Within a couple of months the blue dots were gone. She passed the 10-month milestone without a problem and was starting to wonder if perhaps it was a cure for her.