IT’S just three months until the date Emily was told she would die, and she says she’s never felt better after turning to China.
EMILY Woodman is just 30 years old. She runs a business with husband Mark, 32, and has a beautiful four-year-old daughter named Charlotte. When she heard last December that she had stage 4 terminal cervical cancer and just 12 months to live, her world fell apart.
Doctors told the Townsville business owner it was too late for surgery or radiation: they could only prepare her for the end with palliative chemotherapy.
But Emily wasn’t willing to give up. “If you have lung or breast cancer, you can try so many different things,” she told news.com.au. “They put money into so many different cancers. They see me — a 30-year-old with a four-year-old — and they say, ‘nope, go home and die’. It’s really surprising and so unfair.”
As her symptoms worsened, she went from doctor to doctor, seeing oncologists from Townsville General Hospital, a consultant at Gold Coast Health, and alternative treatment specialist Manuela Boyle.
“I couldn’t walk, talk or bend,” said Emily. “I felt like I was drowning.”
Most told her the same thing. There was nothing to be done. They gave her morphine and cough medicine, and sent her home.
But when Dr Boyle saw how sick Emily was, she proposed a radical idea — the young woman could go to a clinic in China, and try cutting-edge treatments that aren’t available here.
“I had a collapsed lung full of fluid and they fixed me up in a week,” said Emily. “They drained three litres of fluid out of the lung cavity, started me on chemo and my cough stopped. I haven’t had any symptoms since.”
Since March, Emily has made five trips to the Modern Cancer hospital in Guangzhou, north-west of Hong Kong, spending a total of $150,000 on the minimally invasive type of radiation called interventional therapy; immunotherapy and cryotherapy. Her Chinese oncologist says her tumour count is now in normal range and her blood tests are normal.
It’s just three months until the date Emily was told she would die, and she says she’s never felt better.
DESPERATE FOR A SHOT
The Queensland woman is far from the only Australian to take this radical and largely untrodden path. Thousands of terminally ill patients left with no further options at home are spending huge sums chasing a last thread of hope, often setting up fundraising pages begging for financial help.
Hundreds of multiple sclerosis sufferers have jumped on planes to Russia or the US seeking stem cell surgery that isn’t available in this country.
The family of a 10-year-old girl with a rare illness that could see her bleed to death has raised $300,000 for her portal vein reconstruction in Chicago.
Cancer patients are also looking overseas for what else is available. In 2014, a report revealed that one in five new cancer therapies are rejected for subsidy in Australia and it takes up to two years for successful treatments to gain one, too late for the terminally ill.
In September 2015, a Senate inquiry into new and specialist cancer drugs noted that Australia had the highest incidence of cancer in the world, and while it also had some of the best cancer survival outcomes, “the provision of timely and affordable access to new and innovative cancer medicines provides a significant challenge.” This stemmed “in part from the fact that cancer medicines are among the most expensive medicines, and from Australia’s relatively small patient populations.”
The Government noted in response that it had approved 40 new or amended cancer medicines at a listing cost of over $2 billion between October 2013 and October 2016, but acknowledged it should “improve and streamline” processes. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for people like Emily.
‘SHE’S HONESTLY BACK FROM THE DEAD’
We know terminally ill people will try anything to have just a little longer with their families. Emily had known since 2014 she had stage 1 cancer, had seen specialists from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and had been given a hysterectomy and had been told she was going to be OK.
She and Mark had just launched their business when they heard the news she was stage 4. It was a horrible shock. “They really broke my heart,” she said. “I was meant to be dead by Christmas.
“We wouldn’t have started our business if we’d known.
“I feel great, I’m here every day working. I tell myself, I’m not going to die.
“It’s only because my life insurance and super paid out that we were able to do this.
“I’ve had no symptoms since.”
Dr Boyle told news.com.au that Emily had reached a point where she wasn’t responding to classical radiation treatment, and she wanted to suggest somewhere close by. “I thought, ‘You need to do more.’ I knew about Modern Cancer hospital, they offer chemo in combination with other medicine, integrated treatment.
“I have no financial interest in any of these. There are state of the art clinics in Sri Lanka, Latvia, Germany, Mexico and some in the US.
“The turnaround was wonderful, amazing. She’s honestly back from the dead.”
But there are concerns about the very countries she mentioned. Cancer medicine Rigvir was approved by Latvia in 2004 based on spurious evidence. Alternative clinics in Mexico and Germany popular with overseas patients have also come under the microscope for “combining experimental therapeutics with rank quackery and charging big bucks for it.”
The Woodmans believe the cost is unfair on Australians who can’t afford to go overseas. Many doctors are concerned about Aussies spending large sums on unproven treatments that may do nothing. Even worse, some treatments could cause harm.
In July 2014, a Brisbane mother of two died of a heart attack while undergoing a controversial stem cell treatment for a rare neurological disorder in Russia. The treatment, more commonly used for multiple sclerosis patients, involved her patient’s immune system with her own stem cells after high-dose chemotherapy. But her husband told the Brisbane Times: “I still don’t think we had a better option.”
By Emma Reynolds
News Corporation Network