MUM'S HOPE: $2.3b promise to cover vital cancer treatment
THE number of days Sue Cook has left to live is a question no doctor has been able to answer but the Wheatvale mother hopes it will be long enough to see a landmark overhaul of government support offered to cancer patients.
A $2.3 billion Labor party promise to provide free treatment and diagnosis for cancer sufferers across Australia will be the biggest since Medicare was introduced, but Mrs Cook said it should have happened years ago.
Now eight months into her battle with incurable pancreatic cancer, the Wheatvale teacher aide almost had to turn down life-lengthening radiation treatment because it was too expensive.
After failed rounds of chemotherapy that made her extremely sick, radiation was the only option left for Mrs Cook.
When she was told to pay $11,000 up front for the treatment, the 51-year-old mother of three daughters (aged 13, 16 and 25) knew it was something she could not afford.
It was only when she told doctors she would be unable to pay for the treatment that she was offered a Medicare-subsidised payment plan.
"If that was not an option it probably would have meant that I would not live very long, to be honest,” she said.
Mrs Cook said a cancer diagnosis came with a suite of unexpected costs that could put stress and pressure on patients and their families.
She said money was the last thing she wanted to worry about as she tried to make the most of her remaining time with loved ones.
"I don't know why it has taken so long for them to come up with this in the (proposed) budget,” she said.
Under the Australian Labor Party pledge, $433 million will be channelled into providing three million free consultations with oncologists and surgeons.
The plan will also offset the cost of more cancer drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Mrs Cook said medication had put significant financial strain on her family.
She takes seven different types of pills every day, each costing about $40 a month at the subsidised rate.
"That adds up to be a lot of money when you put it all together,” she said.
More help needed for regional areas
While Mrs Cook hoped the plan would give more cancer patients access to better treatment, the need for services in regional areas had not been specifically addressed.
After six weeks of travelling to and from Toowoomba every day for radiation treatment, Mrs Cook said it was more important than ever.
"I could have stayed in Toowoomba,” she said.
"But family is everything. To be with family when you're sick can be healing in itself. So it felt like I didn't really have a choice.”
During the past six weeks, an amazing team has come to Mrs Cook's aid by taking her to the appointments every day.
"Everyone has just been amazing with that support. No one has complained once about driving,” she said.
While Mrs Cook's form of cancer is rare, the disease more broadly is not.
By the age of 85, half of Australian men and women will have been diagnosed with cancer.
Mrs Cook said the statistics were proof that money was needed desperately to help patients deal with the disease.
"People who haven't been through it don't realise the costs that are associated with it,” she said.
"Yes, I would be asking voters to consider the costs that cancers patients face.”
How common is cancer?
An estimated 145,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year, with that number set to rise to 150,000 by 2020.
One in two Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.
Cancer is a leading cause of death in Australia - almost 50,000 deaths from cancer are estimated for 2019.