Cancer patient raises £52,000 after drug application refused

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Gemma WilliamsImage source, Gemma Williams
Image caption,
Gemma Williams was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in January

A woman whose application for a cancer drug was turned down three times said she was "overwhelmed" after raising £52,000 to pay for it.

Gemma Williams, of Cwmbran, Torfaen, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in January.

After going through treatment, the 35-year-old was told by doctors a drug called Kadcyla gave her the best chance of stopping the cancer's return.

But her application to have the drug was rejected three times by the NHS.

She has now raised the cash to have private treatment at the end of what she called a "rollercoaster year".

Mrs Williams started chemotherapy in January and found the side effects hard to deal with - including losing her waist-length hair.

"Within two weeks I started to get what they call 'the dreaded shed' and my husband had to shave my head.

"I thought that was going to be my breakdown point but believe it or not, I didn't actually shed a tear.

"I just got on with it and looked in the mirror and thought 'hmm, I didn't realise how small my head was'.

"The chemo was brutal - sickness, aching and my skin blistered and peeled off in places which was really really painful."

Image source, Gemma Williams
Image caption,
Gemma Williams' skin blistered after chemotherapy

After a mastectomy and radiotherapy, she was told she was cancer free, but doctors said because of her age, the best way to stop a relapse was to take Kadcyla.

The drug is available to NHS patients in Wales with secondary cancer.

Some trials in the US have shown the drug appears to stop the disease from returning for some patients and Mrs Williams' doctors applied to Aneurin Bevan health board's Individual Patient Funding Request (IPFR) panel on this basis.

The application was rejected and two further appeals were also dismissed.

The health board said the IPFR panel "considers each request on its merits, using the clinical evidence available at that time and the criteria set out within the All Wales Policy."

Mrs Williams and her friends and family, who have become known as Gem's Pink Army, set about the "daunting" task of trying to raise the £45,000 she needed for 12 cycles of Kadcyla.

They started on fundraising on 23 October and reached their goal within five weeks.

Image source, Gemma Williams
Image caption,
Gemma Williams (front left) with her pink army

"We said that ideally, we'd like to get to £12,000 by Christmas. So that would be enough to have three cycles and then we would look at what we needed to do after Christmas," said Mrs Williams.

"We didn't think that we'd hit £20,000 in a week, so it's quite overwhelming. The generosity of the community is completely unbelievable."

Donations have ranged from coins thrown into collection buckets to an anonymous donation of £2,500, which all meant Mrs Williams could have her first round of Kadcyla in mid-November.

The fundraising page has exceeded the original target and now stands at about £52,000.

Image source, Gemma Williams
Image caption,
Gemma Williams had her first round of Kadcyla in mid-November

Mrs Williams is planning to help the breast cancer unit at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach, as well as a local charity helping families in need over Christmas and Torfaen's Women's Refuge.

"I've been lucky enough for people to give to me so now I think it's time to give back."

The health board said it was unable to comment on individual cases, but added: "We do appreciate that patients are disappointed when they are not granted access to drugs not routinely available despite their clinician having made an application and our best wishes go to Gemma and her family."

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