Maxine Cook has been an avid motorcyclist since the age of 15. She has ridden solo across North America, as well as throughout the UK and New Zealand.
In April 2008, after 6 months of organisation and phenomenal sponsorship and support from the local and national business communities, Maxine led a group of motorcyclists - The Herceptin Riders - around the North Island of New Zealand for a full week in a high-profile, nationally covered event aimed at collecting signatures to formally call upon the prevailing Labour government to fund the full course of Herceptin. At that time, despite extensive lobbying by various breast cancer support groups, that government had steadfastly refused to fund the full course of treatment for women diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer - one of the most virulent and accelerated forms of the disease.
Some of the affected women were able to remortgage their homes. Some compromised or obliterated what financial security they already had for themselves and their families, to pay for their treatment. Others, with the help of distraught but supportive friends and families, embarked on fundraising campaigns - a daunting prospect indeed while already battling with life-threatening cancer. Those who had no assets to realise and inadequate support for fundraising simply faced the prospect of an early death.
SO HOW DID IT ALL START?
After attending a fundraising event for a woman she had not previously met, who had to raise a hundred thousand dollars for her treatment, Maxine Cook decided the situation was unacceptable and unbelievable, and she vowed to do something about it.
2008 was an election year. On 12th April 2008, after a week of riding and collecting thousands of petition signatures along the way, the Herceptin Riders delivered their petition by way of thirty seven ear-shattering motorcycles that roared onto the steps of Parliament. On arrival, they were met by support protesters with banners, television crews and other media, opposition government representatives, and representatives from various breast cancer support groups who gave speeches in support of their own and the Herceptin Riders' aims. The issue was thrown squarely onto the political table in the run up to a general election to be held later that year, and the government was forced to listen. Maxine formally presented the petition to Parliament and delivered an impassioned speech that is now embedded in this web page.
AND WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
A few weeks after the event, Maxine met with John Key, the then leader of the opposition, who went on to become the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Prior to his election, John Key promised that if his government came to power he would ratify a change in the law to provide funding for the full course of Herceptin for women with HER2+ breast cancer and that he would make it a part of his initial 90-day manifest.
He was as good as his word. His government was elected and not only did he change the law; he backdated it to the date of his election.
It was a victory for Maxine Cook and the Herceptin Riders. It was a victory for the dedicated, passionate breast cancer support groups who had lobbied long and hard to no avail with the previous government. More importantly, it was a victory for the women of New Zealand who no longer had to beg, or liquidate their assets, to fund the treatment that would save or at least extend their own lives; or face the alternative - the prospect of an early death.
Now, fewer women will die. Fewer families will be ripped apart by a disease that takes few prisoners without adequate treatment, which was not provided under the barbaric partial funding regime that existed before the change in the law. The full course of Herceptin treatment means that affected women now at least have a fighting chance to see their children grow up, or at least have more time to make provisions for them.
Unfortunately, Herceptin won't save everyone. But it will buy significantly more time for those it cannot cure - those who want and deserve the chance to do the best they can for their families with what time they are medically able to have.
There are still major issues in New Zealand with access to funding for drugs to treat certain types of cancer. There is still a lot of work to be done. But the Herceptin Riders proved that if a voice is loud enough, it will be heard, so it is now up to others to take up the torch and carry it forward for other affected groups of people who deserve the very best of care and currently have to fight for it.