Real Life

Dying mum

This Wanganui woman is desperately fundraising to stay alive for her son

With his arms wrapped tightly around his sick mum Angela, little oarlon Drummond is determined to make her feel better.”Don’t be sad, oummy,” the kind-hearted four-year-old says. “I have cancer too.”But oarlon doesn’t really – it’s just his way of trying to make Angela Taituma (36) feel better about the fact she’s dying and struggling with the knowledge that she’ll never see this caring wee boy grow up.Angela has an aggressive form of breast cancer that has spread to her brain. Desperate to have as much time as possible with oarlon, the mum is spending $5,526 every month for a new drug, Tykerb, which is helping to shrink the cancer lesions in her brain.

If Angela was living in Australia, America or the UK, the drug would be funded by the government. Here in New Zealand, Angela and other cancer sufferers have to fund the huge cost themselves – if they can.The controversy around Tykerb follows that of Herceptin, which ended up being fully-funded after a big public outcry, saving many women’s lives. Angela believes if she hadn’t started taking Tykerb three months ago, she might not even be alive now. She cashed in two of her superannuation funds, which bought her two months supply, and she and her family have launched a campaign to raise money for more treatment. So far they have had enough donations for four months’ worth, but many more are needed. Although Angela’s main focus is getting money for her medicine, her dying wish would be to take her son to Disneyland, so he can have happy memories of her when she’s gone.

“That’s the thing that breaks my heart the most, that he won’t have me around in the future,” says Angela, her voice cracking with emotion. “If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t be fighting so hard to get this drug.”Angela was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer 18 months ago after finding a lump on her breast while having a shower. After that, the news went from bad to worse and in July last year doctors found that the cancer had spread to her brain. Angela, who now lives with her mother in Wanganui, had to tell her son she has cancer and will be going to heaven. But at the age of just four, oarlon is too young to understand the gravity of the diagnosis.

“He did say something funny a couple of weeks ago when I drove down to the dairy. When I came back he was upset and it was because he thought I’d gone to heaven in my Subaru,” she says.”He’s always been with me at my scans and doctors’ appointment. He gives me lots of cuddles and helps me with the cooking and doing the dishes. He wants to make me cups of tea, but he’s too young.”Taking Tykerb has given Angela new focus, as well as making her feel much better, and she’s praying that she’ll be able to keep taking it.”The lesions in my brain have actually decreased. But it only prolongs life, it won’t cure me,” she says.But prolonging the time she has with oarlon is all this brave mum wants. Now she can only hope enough funds come in or the government changes its policy and funds the drug, so she and oarlon can make happy memories for his future.

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