Living in hope of new drugs

Serious, life threatening and life ending illnesses have always been a problem, sometimes at epidemic and even pandemic proportions.

Tuberculosis has been around since at least neolithic times. The Great White Plague epidemic started in the 17th century and lasted about 200 years. The industrial revolution enabled it.  Both my grandfather’s brothers died of TB aged 19.

The 1918 flu pandemic infected about half a billion people around the world and killed 50-100 million, 3-5% of the world population. This followed the massive loss of life during World War 1 – many men who survived the horrors of the trenches died of the flu, or spread it around the world as they returned to their home countries.

TB and the flu haven’t gone away completely but are currently less deadly in developed countries like New Zealand.

Now our biggest killers are heart disease and the various types of cancer that have now been identified.

Modern medicine has made avoidance and survival much more achievable (but something gets us all in the end).

One significant change is hope – hope that medical advances will prevent or cure diseases.

This must be an difficult for those who are suffering, especially those who know there are new drugs available elsewhere but are unavailable or unaffordable.

Others are helped by currently available life extending drugs, but live in hope of something better becoming available.

I can barely imagine what it must be like living in this situation, but that’s the situation  Dunedin’s deputy mayor is currently in.

ODT: Staynes making the most of remission

Dunedin’s deputy mayor is readying himself for one last term on the council, after treatment halted the spread of his prostate cancer.

While Cr Chris Staynes’ cancer has not gone away, he said yesterday it was in “a controlled state” that meant he was ready to continue in his role for another three years, if the vote went his way in October.

In April last year Cr Staynes (65) was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Tests later confirmed the cancer had spread to his bones at multiple sites, meaning his long-term prognosis appeared bleak.

But yesterday he said after chemotherapy that was “not so good”, and medication, his health was “at the moment good”.

His specialist had told him yesterday his prostate-specific antigen result, which tested for an enzyme in the blood produced exclusively by prostate cells, was zero.

That meant the cancer was neither spreading or growing.

The medication he was taking to get that result, however, would “work for a while; at some point, it will cease working”.

Once that happened, there was another drug that would hold the cancer, but for a shorter time, and another, more recently funded, that “could buy you a bit more time, but shorter again”.

“What you hope is they last as long as they possibly can.”If he got five years from the drug he was on, “that’s a great outcome”, he said.

The longer he lived, the longer he was likely to live because of the research that was going on.

Sooner or later, new drugs would come on the market.

I really feel for him and others in similar situations (as much as is possible without facing it myself), living in hope of life saving or better life extending drugs or treatments.

I must admit that when one gets on a bit, and one notices more people of a similar age falling victim to disease and death, one tends to ponder things like this a lot more.

One thing it reminds me to do is be very thankful I can still enjoy life and good health. Neither of my grandfathers lived as long as I have survived, but I live in much better times as far as medicines and wares are concerned.