Campaigner Annie Mulholland has left a lasting legacy for cancer patients in Wales after spending the last years of her life fighting for their rights, friends and activists have said.
Annie, 53, died last week after being diagnosed with advanced and incurable ovarian cancer in 2011.
The 63-year-old from Cardiff decided to rent a room in London to receive treatment from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London after she was told by her Welsh health board that the drug Avastin was unavailable .
The former Cardiff University widening access officer went to lobby the UK and Welsh governments to promote fairer access to cancer drugs for people in Wales and raised awareness about cancer while encouraging people not to be frightened of the disease.
Annwen Jones, chief executive of the Target Ovarian Cancer charity, praised the work carried out by Annie for the charity and the breakthrough she made for cancer patients in Wales.
‘She wanted to do more to get involved’
She said: “We first met Annie in 2013 she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 so she had been quite active in Wales and had set up a support group at Velindre.
“She was really interested in doing more to campaign in Wales for access to Avastin, one of few drugs approved for treatment of ovarian cancer.
“She wanted to get involved on the issue of access to drugs. We’re a big campaigning charity in Westminster and she wanted to be a part of our campaign but wanted help from us to get started on campaigning in Wales.
“Her main interest in our charity was about campaigning for change and improvements. She became involved in every aspect of our work. She became involved in our research and she was a lay reviewer and involved in raising awareness of symptoms of ovarian cancer.
‘She did everything we asked of her and 10 times more’
“Our past events for women with ovarian cancer she would come to and she would travel round the country to help women who had been recently diagnosed.
“She fundraised for the charity and she reviewed our patient information and came to the office to do data entry. She did everything we asked of her and 10 times more.
“We have worked with some pretty amazing people but she was quite incredible in terms of the number of areas she contributed to and helped with. We feel as a community everybody is in mourning because she knew so many people.”
Despite often being in ill health and undergoing treatment, Annie would continue to attend events and the offices of Target Ovarian Cancer as well as lobbying the Welsh Government.
A film about Annie was shown in BBC Wales in March called A Border of Life and Death, in which she talked about her illness and campaigning.
A huge personality
Annwen added: “I understand from the family up until the end she was trying to do everything she could to make sure the changes did happen.
“She was just a huge personality and even people who she disagreed with and give them a terrible time, and quite rightly so, respected her because they knew she was coming from a good place.”
More than 40 cancer patients visited the Senedd to talk to Assembly members including health ministers Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething , to address issues such as the “postcode lottery” of cancer services in Wales.
“From Annie’s point of view she wanted to make sure after she died there would be other people who could carry on and campaign for high as possible standards of care in Wales for cancer patients,” said Annwen.
“Annie’s impact in terms of access to treatment will be long lasting as the patients who came to the Senedd have now formed into a group called Wales Cancer Voices and that group will continue to campaign for the best cancer treatment in Wales.
“There is a movement she started that will go on and push for change and hold the Welsh Government to account.
“She started something that will continue, something really important but also made some pretty fundamental and big changes for cancer treatment in Wales.
“I think Annie’s impact on access to treatment in Wales has been demonstrated by what we have heard over the past few weeks in that we know there’s going to be a new treatment fund for patients to be able to access drugs on the NHS in Wales which includes cancer.
“Annie was really the lead campaigner in Wales calling for better funding for cancer drugs so people didn’t have to go across the border.”