ACT News


New treatment saves Canberran who suffered more than 20 tumours from melanoma

Each tumour that was removed from Sharon Dei Rocini's brain or lungs would have another in its place within weeks - until she began a revolutionary drug.

The "living hell" began when a melanoma she had removed returned five years later and spread to her blood, eventually resulting in more than 20 tumours. The chance of the cancer coming back was a mere one per cent.

"When I got my first tumour there wasn't a lot of treatment, but because of research we have come such a long way," the Canberran said.

"Since I started on the treatment, Keytruda, I have been able to fight back the cancer cells."

"But it could stop working because it is new and cancer cells can learn to beat the immune system."

In 2007 Ms Dei Rocini had a stage-one melanoma removed from her chest wall.


Not thinking much of it, she went about her normal life until discovering five years later it had returned and spread into her blood and her organs.

"I had five operations to remove eight tumours in the brain, and then I'd have another scan and six weeks after getting one out I had all new ones," she said.

"Between the brain surgeries I had tumours in both lungs. I had three surgeries to remove 11 tumours in the lung, and then I had one surgery to remove three tumours in the stomach."

But she received a lifeline with the breakthrough drug, Keytruda, which cost most patients $150,000 a year until it was placed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2015.

Prominent businessmen Ron Walker flew to the US to join the trial of Keytruda before it was available in Australia and claimed it cleared him of cancer. He then became determined convince the Australian government to subsidise the drug.

Outside of the US, Australians were the first in the world to have cheaper access to the treatment, and Ms Dei Rocini was one of the first in the country to test its lifesaving ability.

But she stressed more research was needed into the disease that affects 49 per 100,000 people in Australia.

"That treatment has kept the tumours away and is working very well," she said.

"But some people work really well on it and I know others who do some don't respond at all. And the cancer will always be in my blood, which is worrying.

"Ultimately we need a cure."

On Sunday Ms Dei Rocini took part in the Melano March in Canberra to raise funds and awareness for the Melanoma Institute of Australia.