Neil Graham

Dr Neil Graham

Dr Neil Graham 1950 - 2021

Neil Graham was diagnosed with CLL at the age of fifty. In the ensuing years, as both a patient and a physician, Neil saw the need for better information and stronger advocacy for New Zealanders living with CLL. With support from others in the CLL sector, in 2019 he established CLL Advocates NZ, gaining membership of the global resource-sharing network CLL Advocates Network and formally launching the New Zealand group at a patient seminar in 2020.

Neil gave tirelessly and freely of his personal time and professional expertise, both in talking and meeting with CLL patients and actively engaging with decision makers to advocate for better treatments for CLL. Neil was widely respected by the CLL and patient advocacy communities for his courage and commitment to this cause and is greatly missed.

Neil Graham FRACP, FRCP qualified at Otago University, and undertook post-graduate training in Wellington and London. He worked as a consultant physician at Tauranga Hospital for thirty years, where his main clinical interest was in general medicine, and subspecialties included respiratory medicine and rheumatology. Other roles Neil held included: senior lecturer, Auckland University of Auckland Medical School; president of IMSANZ, and its NZ predecessor; examiner for RACP; and Director of Clinical Training, BOPDHB.

Dr Ben Schrader

Dr Ben Schrader 1965 - 2024

Ben, a founding trustee of CLL Advocates, helped establish our Trust in March 2019 alongside Neil Graham, Gillian Corbett, and Rebecca Graham. Despite his intermittent remission, he dedicated significant time to advocating for CLL patients.

Ben led key initiatives, including a multi-patient march on Parliament in 2019 to petition for government funding of ibrutinib and venetoclax, and presented our case to a Health Select Committee. In 2021, he appeared before the Pharmac Review Panel, and in 2022, he contributed to and presented our submission on the Pae Ora Bill.

Ben's substantial contributions and willingness to take on public roles, despite preferring to work behind the scenes, greatly advanced our cause.


Dr Amy Holmes, Medical Director

Amy graduated with a Bachelor of Advanced Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) with a major in physiology and pharmacology prior to studying medicine at the Australian National University (ANU).

She graduated in 2007 and completed the majority of her training through the Canberra Hospital prior to travelling to Christchurch for her final year of specialist training in clinal haematology and hematopathology (FRACP, FRCPA).

Amy has been a staff specialist at the Christchurch hospital ever since and also greatly enjoys being able to support haematology patients on the West Coast and through the St Georges Cancer Care Centre.

She is a member of various medical organisations including the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group (ALLG) for which she sits on the New Zealand Medicines Access committee. She is a principal investigator for a range of clinical trials and provides a consultative service to the Christchurch branch of New Zealand Clinical Research (NZCR).

She has strong interests in malignant haematology, including CLL, and is committed to improving patient outcomes.

Catherine Isaac - Chair

Catherine Isaac is a Wellington-based communications and public affairs consultant with many years’ experience in senior corporate, public sector and not-for-profit roles. She was a member of the government’s Welfare Working Group, Chair of the government-appointed Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board, general manager, public affairs, for the National Provident Fund, and a consultant to the Treasury. Her community roles include three terms on state school boards of trustees, President of Act New Zealand for 5 years, Chair of the Karori Sanctuary Trust and a trustee of the Wellington Community Trust. Catherine has had close family experience of living with CLL.

Dr Ruth Spearing

Dr Ruth Spearing CNZM, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPA has been involved with haematology since 1980 and has been a leader nationally in haematology trials. She was the NZ Principal Investigator for many of the UK Medical Research Council/National Cancer Research Institute trials which New Zealand took part in from the late 1980s until two years ago. These included the first ever trial to show that treatment of CLL could lead to prolongation of life and not just control of the disease.

Ruth’s many leadership roles included being the Canterbury Clinical Lead for the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Service, a Board Member of the New Zealand Medical Association, and an elected member of the Canterbury DHB Clinical Board. She retired from direct patient care for family reasons but remains active in the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group of which she is a Life Member and has recently joined its CLL Working Party.

A patient with CLL set up a Trust in Ruth’s name  for research in the South Island which helped fund the setting up of the Haematology Trials Unit in Dunedin and some specific CLL research done by the Christchurch Haematology Research Group, amongst other projects.

Gillian Corbett

Dr Gillian Corbett

Gillian Corbett MBChB, FRACPath, MRCP, FRACP is a retired laboratory and clinical haematologist. She qualified in Otago, and underwent specialist haematology training in Edinburgh. She joined the staff of Waikato Hospital in 1987, concentrating on laboratory and clinical duties, with a particular interest in haematological malignancies. She was also Director of the Waikato Blood Transfusion Service from 1987 to 1993 and Director of Clinical Haematology from 2005 to 2014. In 2015 she took up a part-time clinical post in Tauranga and helped set up a haematology service there. She retired from practice in September 2021. In the course of her work in Tauranga, Gillian had a particular interest in running clinical trials, including initiating several trials involving the management of CLL. She has a continuing interest in advocating for the best possible care for CLL patients in New Zealand.

Rebecca Graham

Rebecca Graham

Rebecca Graham is a solicitor at Cooney Lees Morgan in Tauranga. Her legal practice focuses on commercial and financial matters advising companies, limited partnerships and investors on all aspects of commercial law. She also advises on property matters. Before joining the firm in July 2011, she was a Senior Associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London. She started her career as a solicitor at Buddle Findlay in Auckland after graduating from the University of Otago in 2003. Rebecca is a current trustee of The Tauranga Art Gallery Trust.

Diane Ward

Diane Ward is a retired primary teacher, principal and ESL teacher. She is well travelled and has lived and worked in several different countries. She was diagnosed with CLL in 2018. It came as a shock and since then she has made a number of lifestyle changes. She has researched CLL and is passionate about fighting for the funding of drugs that are readily available in many other countries as first line   treatment. She would like everybody who is diagnosed with CLL to have a funded initial appointment with a specialist who could explain its intricacies. Diane is a regular contributor to our Facebook group  and is keen to encourage wider engagement in discussion and active support for our efforts to access better treatments for New Zealanders living with CLL.