Aussie mum with stage three lung cancer raising awareness for better access to lifesaving medication

Aussie mum with stage three lung cancer raising awareness for better access to lifesaving medication
  • PublishedMay 4, 2024

‘It is so touching what your family and friends do just to keep you alive.’

Seven years ago, as Alison Bolton walked into her local swimming pool complex, she was moved to tears.

The walls were plastered with fundraising signs, and her friends were out in force — collecting money to help keep the then-48-year-old mum-of-four alive.

It was 2017, and Alison had just been diagnosed with stage three lung cancer.

The only medication which would prolong her life would cost $7000 a month.

It was an amount the Brisbane mum — once a super-fit triathlete — simply couldn’t afford.

“It is so touching what your family and friends do just to keep you alive,” a still-grateful Alison tells 7Life of her community’s generosity.

The swimming pool fundraiser, as well as a GoFundMe campaign, meant the mum was able to cover the first month of the costly medication.

While the drug proved to significantly aid her life in those short four weeks, she was filled with anxiety.

“It’s the stress of not knowing,” Alison says.

“Imagine having to do this (fundraising) for years — the uncertainty of finding the money.”

Thankfully, the medication on which Alison was relying at the time was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) the following month.

Under the federal government subsidy program, the $7000 drug was reduced to just $40.

Alison was grateful and relieved that the financial burden of access to the drug had been lifted for her.

But she now says others are dying waiting for life-preserving medications to be added to the PBS.

“It is a miracle that (mine) was added,” she says of her medication.

“I no longer had this anxiety where I thought I was just going to die.

“But this needs to be for everyone. People are dying.”

The triathlete first began noticing difficulty in her breathing in 2017, after she had competed in numerous triathlons.

Following a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Because of her cancer’s aggressive nature, chemotherapy and radiotherapy failed to stop the disease from spreading.

And soon, her oncologist discovered a cancerous growth in her brain.

Her disease was incurable.

Alison and husband with two of their four children.

“I was exploring what treatment options I had,” Alison says.

With the help of a friend who was also battling lung cancer, Alison discovered a medication that was distributed overseas for lung cancer patients.

When the mum mentioned the drug to her oncologist, he advised her that it was available — but at a huge cost.

And she would need to have it for the rest of her life.

Because of the nature of her cancer, it was also likely the drug would work only in the short term, until the disease adapted to the medication.

This meant Alison would be back to square one, searching for a treatment option.

She didn’t immediately worry about the what-ifs, and jumped at the chance to try the medication which could potentially give her a few more months of life.

“You just find a way,” she says of the hefty price tag of the pharmaceutical.

Friends and family rallied around, remarkably raising the $7000; a month later, the drug was added to the PBS.

For three-and-a-half years, the mum celebrated her children’s birthdays, Christmas and Mother’s Days, creating life-long memories for her family.

Then the medication stopped working and Alison’s cancer again began to spread.

She was able to find another type of drug, which was also available on the PBS, and which has been keeping the cancer at bay ever since.

Alison, now 53, is fighting for a faster PBS drug approval system.

Despite her ongoing illness, Alison considers herself lucky.

“There is no cure for my lung cancer,” she says.

“I just have to keep finding and changing drugs which keep me alive.”

Now 53, the mum has her eye on a few more medications if her current one stops working.

But only one of them is government-subsidised.

“I know the PBS system is in place to ensure these drugs are safe, but sometimes it can take 10 years,” she says.

“We cancer patients don’t have that time.”


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