After misdiagnosis, an impromptu wedding and multiple treatments, a young Auckland woman has been told a hugely expensive medication is her last chance to beat cancer.
Gemma Malins, 28, went to the doctor two years ago and was told a bump under the skin on her thigh was just a fat lump.
“I went back three months later when it had grown to the size of a tennis ball. Another had grown on my breast,” Malins said.
Again, she was told the lumps were just fat and she could rule out cancer.
“Later in 2019 I moved to Beachlands and found a new GP. She’s the best, and sent me straight to the specialist, but I had a three-month wait due to no medical insurance.”
Malins had a biopsy, and was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.
“It had spread throughout my whole body.”
She told the Herald a funded immunotherapy called Keytruda initially stabilised the melanoma – but after a year, the cancer spread again.
“After my diagnosis, my fiancé and soulmate Brandon had an impromptu wedding that was planned in two weeks.”
The couple were married at Duders Beach (Umupuia), east of Beachlands.
“Brandon gave up his whole life for me, his job as a beekeeper. He’s amazing, he’s been with me for every blood test, every needle, every pain, every good and bad day,” Malins said.
“He’s my hero.”
Malins had been having treatment every three weeks but that treatment was no longer working.
“The scans I’ve been having show the melanomas in my stomach had started growing instead of shrinking.”
It was a difficult summer.
“While most were celebrating, we spent New Year’s Eve in hospital. I’ve had multiple ambulance call-outs. The staff know me well by now.”
Malins said she needed 4.5 litres of fluid drained from her abdomen in February after experiencing severe stomach pain.
“It was a horrible, painful and traumatic experience for someone like me who hates needles.”
She also had radiation in February on three melanomas.
“Sometimes, it gets so painful it feels like broken glass in my skin.”
She had to buy new clothes in bigger sizes because of the largest melanoma in her stomach and another painful one on her hip.
“As of today, I have started a new treatment, ipilimumab, which the doctors say is my last option.”
Ipilimumab is an antibody which helps to bolster the body’s immune system to fight melanoma.
The treatment cost $12,000 every three weeks at a private clinic.
“My Nana has kindly paid for the first one. I am still fundraising for the rest, which will total about $50,000.”
Her younger sister Celine Moshiem established a Givealittle page to help raise funds for the treatment.
Malins said she was now focused on the treatment and getting through each day.
Malins said her mum was always there, her husband never left her side, and she was grateful to St John Ambulance for attending so many call-outs.
“All I can do now is take one day at a time and make the most of every moment.”
On the page, her sister Celine Moshiem wrote: “If I had the funds, I would give it to her in a heartbeat. It’s hard to see her like this. I just want my sister back.”
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