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Non-smoker battling lung cancer

Julie Robinson has never been a smoker.

She briefly experimented in her youth but quickly decided she didn’t like it.

Last week she started chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer in December.

“People say to me, ‘you don’t smoke’,” she told The Gisborne Herald.

Lung cancer — the biggest cancer killer in New Zealand — is increasing among non-smokers.

It is also the country’s most poorly-funded cancer treatment, says Julie, who is trying to raise $150,000 for her first year of treatment with ‘‘wonder drug’’ Keytruda.

Julie was fascinated and motivated after watching a television interview with Wiki and Malcolm Muholland of collective group Patient Voice Aotearoa.

The organisation lobbies ‘‘for equal access to world-class medical care across New Zealand’’.

Wiki, who has advanced breast cancer, is in the same situation as Julie. Both desperately need drugs that are not publicly funded in New Zealand.

She contacted the Mullhollands, who asked her to support them at Patient Voice Aotearoa (East Coast).

Julie agreed and is now the second Gisborne resident after Alain Jorion to publicly campaign for Pharmac to fund Keytruda.

Her own lung cancer is a rare form of the disease.

“So there’s not a lot of information or a standard treatment plan. It’s generally resistant to chemotherapy.”

Julie says she needs immunotherapy, which in her case means Keytruda.

The drug is given by infusion in hospital and is designed to enable a person’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells.

The $150,000 bill covers 10 treatments in the first year and Julie has launched a givealittle page asking for public support.

If the drugs shows evidence of success, the drug company will fund two more years of treatment.

“The Government gives nothing.”

Adds her voice to the call for Pharmac reviewKeytruda is fully funded (under special authority criteria) in New Zealand only for melanoma patients.

It is funded for lung cancer in 42 other countries worldwide, including Romania, Greece and Lebanon.

“According to Malcolm (Muholland), New Zealand is at the bottom for cancer funding,’’ says Julie.

Patient Voice Aotearoa is also calling for a review of Pharmac — the New Zealand crown entity that decides, on behalf of district health boards, which medicines and pharmaceutical products are subsidised for use in the community and public hospitals.

“It was formed 25 years ago but has never been reviewed,’’ said Julie.

“The advances in cancer treatment in the last five years have been greater than in the previous 20.

“But there has still been no review into Pharmac.

“What other government agencies haven’t been reviewed in the last 25 years or since their inception?

“Before I got diagnosed, I had no idea of all of this. I want to raise awareness that there’s an issue here.”

Patient Voice Aotearoa has called for an inquiry into Pharmac by the Health Select Committee and the Maori Affairs Select Committee.

The Maori Affairs Select Committee has indicated its support.

The New Zealand health system should be able to do better than this, says Julie.

”But how do we know when there’s been no review?”

People are welcome to join Patient Voice Aotearoa (East Coast), which can be contacted through Facebook.

“Forever remembered. May you rest in peace”: Cancer advocate Julie Robinson fought lung cancer bravely and with dignity, earning the admiration of many. She died on Sunday and was farewelled yesterday. Herald file picture