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'We thought we had more time' - Cancer sufferer dies trying to self-fund Keytruda treatment

An Auckland cancer sufferer, who gifted sunflowers from his front lawn to try raise $100,000 in donations to fund the anti-cancer drug Keytruda, has died.

Anders Jansson-Bush outside his East Auckland home. Source: 1 NEWS

Over the past several months, Anders Jansson-Bush, 64, planted dozens of sunflower plants and began offering seedlings to the public in exhange for a donation. It was in order to fund the $10,000-per-injection drug in the hopes it would extend his life for up to 10 years.

He was diagnosed with neck cancer in 2016 and treated by radiation and chemotherapy but like many others, he wanted to be able to have access to Keytruda, a highly effective and broad-range anti-cancer drug.

The treatment suppressed the cancer progression for three years but not without "crippling" side effects, according to his wife, Suzanne Jansson-Bush.

The cancer returned and in May 2019 he was told by doctors it had spread to his pelvis, lymph nodes, lungs and liver. It was then the option of using Keytruda was raised. 

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Auckland cancer sufferer selling sunflower plants to raise money to pay for Keytruda medication

Sadly, on December 19, he collapsed at home and died suddenly from what doctors suspect was an aneurysm.

His wife, Suzanne Jansson-Bush, told 1 NEWS she believes if her husband had access to Keytruda from early on, he might still be alive today.

Pharmac approved Keytruda for melanoma patients in 2016, after a prolonged campaign for Government funding fought by patients and then-opposition Labour MPs - but it's not funded for other types of cancers.

She says Keytruda was not strongly promoted as part of the public hospital system and was only offered to Mr Jansson-Bush at a late stage.

“If Keytruda had been funded, it would have been our first option,” she says.

“We were given the option but we didn’t have easy access to $100,000 to go ahead."

Ms Jansson-Bush says her husband had suffered major side effects from his treatment and never returned to his “strong, vibrant self”.

"The radiation caused his jaw to rot from the inside, to the point where he was going to need surgery to remove his teeth," she says.

"It is quite a tragedy. If the Government thinks that putting money into Keytruda immunotherapy is a poor investment, it really isn’t," Ms Jansson-Bush says.

"We thought he was going to live a lot longer, we thought we had more time."

She says her husband used to joke about contracting melanoma just so he could get access to Keytruda.

Last year, believing that the drug was going to be the answer to prolonging his life, Mr Jansson-Bush told his wife he was going to “dig up the front lawn” to plant a large patch of sunflowers and let people take a seedling plant in exchange for a donation, as a way to raise awareness and fundraise for the drug.

“I love sunflowers, to me they are a celebration of life so I thought if I don’t make it, I have done something that I would love to do anyway,” he had told 1 NEWS earlier in the year.

On December 30th, the family held a live streamed and public memorial where more than 100 people gathered in the sunflower garden he had planted to farewell Mr Jansson-Bush, known in the community as ‘the sunflower man’.

“Having a memorial in the sunflower garden was what we wanted to do because that’s where he put so much of his energy,” Ms Jansson-Bush said.

"It was really moving because there were a lot of people we didn’t know arrived because they cared."