A mum of three who feared she wouldn’t live to see her children grow up after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer is now planning her future after treatment with a “curative” drug that was only available privately at the time.

Non-smoker Joanne McAlpine, was devastated to be told she had advanced, primary lung cancer in November 2018 after surviving breast cancer eight years earlier.

The 49-year-old had been suffering from a tickly cough but put this down to air conditioning at work during last year’s record temperatures. However, she made an appointment with her GP after one of her fingers suddenly turned blue and felt as if, “the circulation had been cut off.”

Joanne, an accountant from Newton Mearns, who has three boys aged 9, 13 and 15 was later diagnosed with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) which had spread to her sternum, her hip, her lymph nodes and liver.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of lung cancer in the world and approximately 9 out of 10 patients have NSCLC which has an average life expectancy of a year if diagnosed in the advanced stage.

Joanne says that because she had private health insurance she had access to an immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab at Rosshall Hospital, which was only available to NHS patients in England.

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After two treatments with the drug, in combination with two types of chemotherapy, her tumours had halved. After her fourth treatment, there was an even bigger difference and she is now categorised as “stable” with only scarring on her lungs.

She says some doctors are tentatively describing the drug as a possibly curative.

Joanne welcomed yesterday’s announcement that the treatment will now be made available to NHS patients, except those with a specific gene mutation.

She said: “I feel very strongly about this. Because I had private health insurance I got access to a drug that wasn’t available to NHS patients.

“I think it had been rejected due to cost and you think are people’s lives not worth it?

“It’s putting a value on people’s lives and the value is more than money.

“I’ve got three children. My eldest son has Down Syndrome and Austism so he needs 24/7 care.

“When they told me at first, I said that all I wanted to do was see my kids grow up.

“I had lesions on my lung, my sternum, my lymph nodes. There was a dot in my liver and a mark in my hip.

“When I went to see the oncologist I thought he was going to say that I wasn’t going to see Christmas but it was quite the opposite.

“He said there had been a trial of the drug I’m on now and that there had been really positive results.

“My last main cycle was after my 50th birthday in March.

“After that, they dropped one of the chemotherapies and I’m now only on immunotherapy. By June, my hip had healed, my sternum had healed, my lymph nodes had gone back to normal and all that was left was an abnormality on my lungs which they said was probably scarring.”

Joanne, whose husband Ken is a chartered accountant, is now tentatively planning a return to work as an accountant and feeling more hopeful for the future.

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She said: “Now, I just feel that there is no reason why I won’t live long enough to see my children grow up.

“There is obviously the fear of it coming back but I know that that treatment has been groundbreaking for me.

“It’s like a chronic illness now. The oncologist said that some people are describing it a cure but they are not using that word yet because they don’t have enough data.”

Dr Brian Clark, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, said: “This is an important development in the treatment of lung cancer in Scotland, where lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women.

“While single-agent immunotherapy has been helping Scottish patients for several years, it is clear that many patients benefit from the combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy given together. “