It was supposed to be one of the happiest times in new mom Sam Entwisle’s life, but everything was turned upside down when she made a surprising discovery under her rib cage.
After giving birth to her third child, a healthy baby boy, last year, the young mother was struck with excruciating pain, leading to the discovery of two hard lumps in her abdomen.
Devastatingly, a CT scan revealed a 21cm football-sized tumor on her liver, which had spread from her colon during pregnancy.
Within days, and several tests later, Sam was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, in which hormones during pregnancy are said to have contributed to the cancer’s rapid spread.
During the pregnancy, Sam was found to have a small lesion on her liver, with doctors at the time attributing her symptoms to pregnancy.
The devastating news came after months of hardship for the 33-year-old married mother of three, whose family was dealing with bushfires, drought and flooding in their rural town of Nabiac, on the NSW Mid North Coast.
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After months of natural disasters came the added uncertainty of covid, causing Sam’s husband, Phill, a commercial airline pilot, to quit his job.
Just weeks after giving birth, the young mother began nine months of chemotherapy, but a devastating blow was yet to come.
“My type of cancer has a mutated gene known as a BRAF and it’s very unfortunate to have it,” she told news.com.au.
“It’s one of those things you don’t want to have next to cancer.
‘There’s a protein in your cancer that mutates. So essentially you have a treatment, then it mutates and it works out how to counteract the treatment and still grow.”
After some success in keeping the cancer at bay, Sam’s chemotherapy unfortunately stopped working in January, but renewed hope came in the form of life-saving treatment.
“I had surgery last August where they hoped to cut out the tumor after three months of chemo, but they couldn’t take the tumor because it was too risky,” Sam said.
“We were hoping that the chemo would shrink the tumor because I need to shrink it to have this surgery.
“The terrible thing is that I can’t survive without surgery. So I need to be able to get the tumor out and then I know I can beat him.”
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In late February, Sam started a revolutionary immunotherapy drug targeting the mutated BRAF gene.
However, the drug, which is often used to treat melanoma patients, comes at a high price.
The drug regimen costs more than $17,000 per month, increasing the strain on the financially stressed family.
In a cruel twist, the treatment would cost significantly less under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme if Sam were a melanoma patient.
“Melanoma patients pay $40 per package, so if they get the exact same treatment as I do, they pay $80 a month and I pay $17,000,” she said.
“It is a specialized treatment and not everyone has access to it. So if you have colon cancer but don’t have the BRAF gene, you wouldn’t take these tablets.
“The new drug is 7 percent more likely to help shrink the tumor.
“We’re holding onto that, that little bit of hope that that 7 percent will actually shrink it enough for the surgery to actually happen.”
Fortunately, there are positive signs that the treatment is working.
“I’m getting good results and my tumor markers keep going down, so the treatment is effective and hasn’t spread or progressed,” she said.
An online fundraiser last year raised $90,000 for the family, but with the ongoing cost of treatment, the community is once again coming together to support Sam’s fight.
Sam hoped that by sharing her story, more people would be aware of the plight facing many Aussies who are also battling cancer.
“I would hate to think that someone in my situation couldn’t have these drugs purely because of the financial burden,” she said.
“That’s my biggest fear, that someone could face chemotherapy that stopped working and then couldn’t afford the tablet because they have colon cancer, not melanoma. That would be horrible.
“I just think that treatments like this should be available to others at no cost.
“At 33 years old, with three kids under four and a half, and a man and land to build on, I have everything to live for and these are the kinds of drugs that give people that hope,” she said.
Donate to help Sam and her family here.