OPINION: Five women who marched on Parliament last year for access to the best cancer drugs on offer in other countries have died.
I don't know their names. I wish I did. But I know they have lost their fight. Dozens and dozens more women with stage 4 breast cancer are facing the same fate – it's just not their turn yet.
I'm sorry if this upsets, but we need to be brutally honest and confronting if we are going to crack this Pharmac drug-funding debacle wide open.
Pharmac needs to be opened up for us all to see. It looks like a secret society. It acts like it's above the law and oblivious to the outside world. Worse, it appears to be cold and hardened in its view that it's right.
Here's the grim news: one in two New Zealanders will have a form of cancer within 10 years. The big C is the medical equivalent of the movie Jaws. It freaks the bejesus out of us. We have all been affected by it one way or another.
But here at home we face a new drug-funding crisis. The world has made remarkable progress in the lab, and the results have seen these lifesaving drugs at minuscule cost save lives in other countries. Wow. Imagine the delight in getting access to them when all hope is gone.
But there are no celebrations here. No way. Our officials have crunched the numbers and decided women with late-stage breast cancer should die early.
If our women were in Australia, Canada, Britain, the USA, across Europe, they'd be facing a totally different future.
For a start, in Australia they spend more on cancer drugs than we do, both in simple numbers, per head of population and as a percentage of Vote Health.
If I got cancer, I'd move to Australia on the same day I was given the news.
I would at least be alive for five years. And have a quality of life. Here, our stage 4 sufferers typically last 13 months. It's bloody criminal and downright wrong. March in the streets over this, New Zealand.
How on earth can Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson claim to be putting a Wellbeing Budget together? Well-meaning perhaps, but waffle all the same. I bet they impressed in Davos, where they specialise in being out of touch by meeting in rooms costing $10,000 a night. That would buy two rounds of drugs. That might prolong or even save a life.
I'm so glad we breathlessly talked about the Wellbeing Budget at great cost and impressed the other wallies on the world stage, but I bet we didn't once admit our cancer system is third-rate and our mental health setup is so bad that no-one knows where to even begin the fix-it job. What greater Wellbeing is there than life itself?
I hope this is making you angry. I hope it's getting you motivated to do something.
And why are we throwing $100 million at Māori landowners to develop blocks that time passed by 20 years ago? And rates are rarely paid by the owners anyway.
How many really give a stuff about the land that banks refuse to touch, and Māori Land Court judges deem so poor it's best left as is where is. Put that money into a drug-buying fund. Let's get the latest pills and save lives. Give us hope.
Truth is we are getting the world's third-best drugs at best. They used to be good, those drugs. But so did Venezuela. And so was my mum's Austin 1300.
Now these drugs look like hand-me-downs that no-one else buys. We are fast becoming the place not to get cancer. Get cancer here and there's no hope. We send you to an early grave. In America, there'd be a class action. Here we take it. We shouldn't allow it.
Pharmac is a world-class model, according to the spin doctors who write such crap. No-one believes it any more. Why would we? Leading doctors now come here on a regular basis to tell us our policies are killing us.
The world is benefiting from groundbreaking drug development, but we missed that fast modern train. We have been left at the station and the roof has fallen in, the bar has closed and music faded a while back.
For me it's personal, I'll be honest about that. This weekend I'll be sitting with my uncle at his 70th birthday in Te Horo. My other uncle will be there too. So will Mum. But Dad won't be. He'll miss catching up with his brothers, his wife, his son and his grandson, Buster, who always asks about Pop-Pop but they sadly never met.
Dad will be in Karori. The cemetery on the corner is his home; kidney cancer took him. Thank the man upstairs that Mum beat breast cancer.
So Labour, stop being so captured by officials and the system. Remember what you promised: world-class cancer care.
Surely you haven't forgotten, have you? Pull finger, save lives, do something with the power you have.
Don't tell us money is tight. It's not. You have a massive surplus paid for by the families needing you to kick some arses at Pharmac's HQ.
And if you still need money, then try this: stop paying NZ Super to immigrants who come here aged 55, and 10 years later enjoy the same full pension that a Kiwi cancer sufferer would normally enjoy, if they were lucky enough to stay alive long enough.
We feel insulted, prime minister. Can you please, please do something to put those suffering cancer first? Thanks.