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Deserving Fresh Hope

Byline: By Gayle Tomlinson Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), December 6, 2005

Campaign for vital drug help

Today the Chronicle launches a campaign to make a life extending cancer drug available on the NHS.

These six men are all dying from the lung disease mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos dust during their working lives.

Now they are being denied the treatment they need. They have all been told by their doctors that they should be given chemotherapy drug Alimta.

Developed on Tyneside, Alimta is available on the NHS in Liverpool, London and throughout Scotland but the Northern Cancer Network has not recommended it for use here.

We are asking readers to back our campaign, Give Us A Chance.

Dad-of-two Arthur Tiffin is one of the reasons Northern Cancer Network must rethink its policy.

His son brought his wedding forward to February in the hope Arthur would still be here. He has been told he must have the drug within the next two weeks so he can live to see his son married.

Arthur, 52, of Walbottle, was exposed to asbestos spores during his work as a pipefitter and other engineering jobs. He now faces remortgaging his house to pay for the treatment.

The drug could help up to 60 dying mesothelioma sufferers a year just in the North East. But they are being forced to pay pounds 24,000 to get the drug at a private hospital.

Manufacturer Lilly says the drug costs just pounds 9,600 for a course.

During what is his last few weeks of life Arthur is being forced to battle for the treatment. He said: "I will not give up this cause until they make Alimta available on the NHS here.

"I have only got weeks. I will be forced to pay for this drug by next week as I will need to start the treatment then.

"I don't want to go to the Nuffield and pay for this. I am a proud Geordie. I have saved for years to keep my wife and children and now that money will be spent on this drug."

Arthur, who has a son, Steve, 28, and daughter, Laura, 21, and wife Cora, 52, worked for McNulty Offshore for 15 years and was once a GMB shop steward.

He said he never thought he would make it to Christmas but now he is concentrating on Steve's wedding.

The wedding was planned for August 2006 but has been moved to make sure Arthur will be there.

Cora said: "The one thing upsetting him is he set the kids and us up and now he is having to pay this money out and leave us with nothing. I am not bothered about the money but it is really upsetting him.

"He has worked all his life and has always been healthy. We never imagined this could happen. We should be enjoying our last days together, instead he is fighting for survival."

Steve said: "I have brought my wedding forward six months but I know it is unlikely he will meet his first grandchild.

"How is it that a good man at the young age of 52 can be denied life saving treatment purely because of the postcode he lives in?"

Steve added: "What is going to happen to him over the next few months could be eased if treatment was available. This drug has been proven in the past to improve the quality of life and prolong life."

There is no cure for mesothelioma but Alimta lengthens sufferers lives by three months. It also helps provide a better quality of life during the last weeks.

David Gavin, 54, of Felling, has been forced to move to Liverpool so he can get the drug on the NHS.

David, who worked in Tyneside shipyards has now had two sessions of Alimta and said he feels great.

He put his backing behind the Chronicle campaign. He said: "I support any campaign to try and make this drug available to everyone who needs it. I have not got the financial means to pay for this drug and there are many out there like me.

"This drug is a chance for people to live a little longer."

Stan Easton, 69, of North Shields is waiting to find if he can get compensation from his former employers to pay for the drug. He will find out next week if he will start a course of Alimta at Newcastle's Nuffield private hospital in Jesmond before Christmas.

Stan said: "This campaign is a good thing. Something needs to be done. There are people a lot worse than me and they should get this drug."

Robert McLaren, 67, of Jarrow, is paying pounds 10,000 for treatment at South Tyneside Hospital. He said the drug has helped his breathing and has extended his life. He said: "If I was not getting this treatment I would be far worse than I am now. It is a good idea to start a campaign."