Posted on 1/06/2018 by
‘I would love all drugs to be available on the NHS but it is not a bottomless pit of money’
A cancer nurse who had to raise the money to pay for her own cancer drug said the new treatment has extended her life.
She was given just three months to live when she was diagnosed.
But within days of her launching a fundraising drive, strangers from around the world had donated £90,000 – enough for four blocks of treatment.
Ms Harris, from Barnstaple, Devon, said the drug has shrunk some of her tumours and given her more time with her husband and three children.
The 43-year-old came to Britain 20 years ago from America before qualifying as an oncology nurse in 2006.
Last year, despite being told she had terminal stage 4 bowel cancer, she returned to her job caring for fellow cancer patients at North Devon District Hospital.
The medicine she needed, Bevacizumab, is not funded by the NHS, her employer.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the public body that authorises spending by the NHS on expensive new treatments – said in 2010 the benefits “did not justify the costs”.
Each block of treatment costs £21,000, and Ms Harris initially hoped to raise enough money on her page for two blocks of treatment.
But after her story was publicised, donations flooded in, totalling more than £90,000.
After completing her first cycle of Bevacizumab, alongside a new chemotherapy drug, she now says her cancer is at bay.
She said she felt any treatment that could help her create more memories to help carry her children through life should be supported and was priceless to her.
However, she recognises the NHS cannot fund all treatments.
“I would love all drugs to be available on the NHS but it is not a bottomless pit of money. NICE have a thankless task deciding what is worthy of funding,” she said. “Of course I think it should be funded; for me and my family extending my life by weeks, months or years has no price tag.”
Ms Harris, who is mother to Molly, 13, and Noah, 16, and step-mother to Zach, seven, said a tumour in her abdomen that had been the size of a watermelon was now down to the size of a grapefruit after the treatment.
“I have now had a CT scan which shows I am completely stable, nothing has grown and some things have actually shrunk,” she said. “No regime comes without side-effects and I can suffer nausea and sickness but I have felt better now than I have in a long time.
“My energy levels are up and my pain levels are under control.”
She added: “I have had so much treatment and my cancer has been through so much that we are taking it day by day and month by month. But I feel really positive about it and I feel so well. I can take part in life and look after my family more than I have been able to for a while.
“The hardest part of my diagnosis was the realisation I would not be around for much longer. I am so hopeful now. I have read about people who have still been alive on it [the drug] a year later.”
Ms Harris, who recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary with Paul after they brought forward their wedding because of her diagnosis, said she wanted to spend time making special memories that she could not have done without the drug.
She has created a bucket list of things she wants to achieve, including a visit to America.
“I am so grateful; not only is it extending my life, it has made me feel so much better and that is worth so much. I want to tell everyone who raised money for me that it is working and I am so, so grateful to every single one of them.”
Her husband said: “This drug can extend her life. It might be weeks, it might be a few months but when you look at it in pounds versus time spent with family, it is priceless.”