June 21, 2024

Zenith Tranquil

Information treatments and health conditions

Kiwi mum with stage 4 cancer relying on unfunded treatment to live

5 min read

Vickie Hudson-Craig was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in 2020 and now has five tumours embedded in her heart muscles. Photo / Selina Nunn

Since the life-altering medication Vickie Hudson-Craig needs isn’t funded in New Zealand, she’s trying to keep her heart strong and live in the moment.

As Vickie Hudson-Craig rode the waves on her surfboard at Sumner Beach earlier this year as part of a Heart Surf fundraising event, the British-born solicitor looked a picture of health.

But Vickie, 44, who was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in 2020, has five tumours embedded in her heart muscles. Thanks to two cancer treatment drugs, Tafinlar and Mekinist, Vickie had the stamina to join the 36-hour event in April, where 50 people, including her husband Ryan, took turns surfing nonstop to raise over $100,000.

All the funds will go towards the drugs Vickie’s relying on to survive, which cost her family $5500 every month. Despite being free for cancer patients in Australia and Britain, and having shrunk Vickie’s tumours by almost half their original size, the life-altering medication isn’t funded in New Zealand.

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Vickie Hudson-Craig had the stamina to join a surfing event to raise over $100,000. Photo / Woman's Day
Vickie Hudson-Craig had the stamina to join a surfing event to raise over $100,000. Photo / Woman’s Day

“Without the drugs, my heart will start to fail, so we’ll be paying for them ourselves until they’re either funded or they stop working, whichever comes first,” explains the mother of 6-year-old Ruby. “They mean my daughter gets a mum, my husband gets a wife and my parents get their daughter.”

It was May 2013 when her sister noticed a bleeding mole on Vickie’s left shoulder. Living and working as a lawyer in Bristol, England, at the time, she had it checked by a doctor.

Vickie recalls, “I’d had it looked at prior because it changed shape a couple of times and a doctor said to me, essentially, that if I was his daughter, he’d leave it where it was – I’d have more problems with the scar than the mole itself – so I left it.

“In hindsight, I shouldn’t have because it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I hadn’t ever come across anyone with melanoma and it wasn’t in the media in the UK like it is now.”

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Vickie found a new GP, who said she’d need to go to hospital to be seen quickly. Within 10 days, she was having the mole removed and biopsied, which showed it was melanoma stage 2b.

It came as a total shock since Vickie had never sunbathed or used sunbeds and always protected her fair skin.

“As soon as they say the word ‘cancer’, the whole world freezes for a bit,” Vickie tells. “I asked if I needed chemo or radiation and the doctor said, ‘No, they wouldn’t work.’ I took it as meaning I was done. I started crying and panicking.

“The doctor explained it’s because traditional chemo and radiation aren’t used for melanoma in a mole situation – I needed a second operation.”

Vickie fell in love with Aotearoa where she met her husband and had a baby in January 2017. Photo / Selina Nunn
Vickie fell in love with Aotearoa where she met her husband and had a baby in January 2017. Photo / Selina Nunn

The surgeon removed more tissue and the surrounding lymph nodes, around the size of a small dinner plate, then Vickie had skin checks every few months for three years, followed by annual appointments.

“Today, type 2b is usually treated with a course of immunotherapy to try to remove any trace of potential cancer,” she explains. “With melanoma, if it’s in your blood, it’s undetectable until it goes somewhere else in your body.”

With a new outlook on life, Vickie decided to take a career break and travel, visiting New Zealand for a holiday. She fell in love with Aotearoa and returned on a working visa in 2015, meeting landscaper Ryan, 39, six months later.

When they found out they were expecting a baby in January 2017, the couple were overjoyed.

“My official yearly mole checks had finished and I didn’t have any health problems, so I thought it was all fine,” Vickie says. “Having gone through the melanoma, I was much more focused on living in the moment and I enjoyed every stage of pregnancy.”

Then, in 2020, as mum to a 3-year-old, Vickie called an ambulance one evening while suffering unbearable stomach pain.

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In case it was appendicitis, she was advised to go to hospital, where doctors confirmed Vickie had an inflamed appendix. While there, she had a scan to check it wasn’t her ovaries, but what the radiographer saw was devastating.

Focusing on the present rather than the future, Vickie has registered Ruby for high schools she’d like her to attend, while packing in family memories. Photo / Selina Nunn
Focusing on the present rather than the future, Vickie has registered Ruby for high schools she’d like her to attend, while packing in family memories. Photo / Selina Nunn

Tearfully, Vickie says, “Two doctors came in afterwards and pulled the curtain closed. They said a nurse was going to take Ruby away for a minute to play with her. My heart sank. They thought my melanoma had come back because there were four tumours in my heart. I just remember hearing Ruby playing and Ryan sobbing.”

For the first nine months, Vickie had immunotherapy, but it didn’t work – the tumours grew and a fifth one appeared. A heart transplant was ruled out, so doctors made the call to put her on Tafinlar and Mekinist.

Now, still working full-time, Vickie has used her KiwiSaver, plus fundraising from a Givealittle page run by family and friends, to pay for the drugs keeping her alive. While there has been a promise by the Government to fund them, there’s no time frame.

“They’re a lifeline that’s hung in front of me, but I can’t quite reach it,” says Vickie, who is able to live a fairly normal life that includes sailing, rowing, skiing and surfing to keep her heart strong. “Around 80 per cent of new cancers in the country are skin cancers, so why aren’t drugs like these funded?”

Focusing on the present rather than the “overwhelming” future, Vickie has registered Ruby for high schools she’d like her to attend, while packing in family memories.

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“It’s hard to plan financially because everything we’ve got is going into drugs, but I feel like I’m helping or putting wishes in place,” she says.

“We’re really trying to make Ruby strong, resilient and capable by just living in the moment – and not taking the future for granted.”

To donate, search for “Hearts and funds for Vickie” at givealittle.co.nz.

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