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Monday, 26 June 2000
Page: 18282


Ms BURKE (10:34 PM) —Tonight I want to fulfil a promise I have made to a courageous constituent of mine, John Halloran. John's request is not for himself but for his wife Virginia. Virginia's story is long and torrid and spans 20 years of medical neglect, as John sees it. The tragic upshot of this situation is that Virginia is now dying of breast cancer. I would like to read John's words on the situation. He states:

My wife developed her mental illness in 1980 at the age of twenty-two. The following seventeen years up until 1997 were a nightmare. I busted my guts to obtain the best possible care for her in all areas of her health management. This included correct medication dosage and the general management of her illness. In hindsight these areas left a lot to be desired, mainly because of the way the mental health system is run and administered. Thank God her mental illness is now under control and her management has been good for the past two years.

While receiving care at a psychiatric hospital in 1992, a routine medical examination discovered lumps in my wife's left breast. Correct examination procedure took place with mammograms and ultrasounds being taken. This confirmed the possibility of cancer. However due to her unstable mental capacity this was pushed into the background. For whatever reason this was not followed up upon I still do not know, even though she was under a community treatment order. Three years later in 1995 it is confirmed that she has breast cancer and she loses her left breast.

In June 1999 it was confirmed her breast cancer had returned. It has now taken hold in her bones, both sides of her neck, and in early 2000 it is diagnosed in her lungs. It is now a terminal illness.

My wife lives by herself, I have to have her removed from the family home because of her mental illness. The entire twenty-year saga has been a total nightmare. I cannot bring her home and have her slowly die in front of our young son. My wife completely agrees with me and understands that it would not be fair on all concerned. This leaves me caring for my wife from a distance; this is undesirable but definitely necessary.

As far as I am concerned, as a carer, I believe, I am the worst. Making the decision of not having my wife home with us during her remaining time has been very hard.

Our son is twelve years of age and has had a harrowing time coming to grips with his mother's mental illness, and now the realisation that she is going to die from cancer. Many nightmares have eventuated because of this. There is just no help for children in these situations with a parent that has a mental illness. There just has to be a better support system for the children, not just coloured brochures.

I feel my wife's life in one sense has been wasted. In another sense, if any good can come from my endeavours to improve the system, I guess it will be something positive. My wife concurs with me and would not wish the events of the past twenty years that we had to endure to afflict anyone else.

I will not let the system get the better of me.

John has truly tried every way to help his wife, and he continues to pursue the matter through every available channel. His desire is to see a better health system for all who suffer from mental illness. John has articulated this in many ways, and he has committed much to paper to see that the system be improved. On medical authorities and associated bodies, John wrote:

Co-operation between all authorities regarding patient care. Bodies should be online with all relevant information regarding patients so they can successfully co-ordinate proper care.

This has not been the case in Virginia's situation. On courts and the mental health system, he wrote:

These institutions must work together. If they do not, the carer and family along with the consumer suffer the consequences.

In the case of John and Virginia Halloran, the consumer is suffering the consequences. But the final words belong to Dan, a rather remarkable 12-year-old who has been through more than any of us would care to imagine. I would like to read from a letter that Dan recently submitted to a newspaper titled `Treasure your mum while you can':

It looks like I've just had my last Mother's Day with my mum. My mum has breast cancer and it is now in her lungs. My mum also has a mental illness but she is OK as far as the mental illness goes and I know that it is not her fault.

The reason I am writing this is to let other kids know not to give their mothers a hard time and respect them, as you never know how long you have them, as I figured out.

So, next Mother's Day do something special for your mums when they don't expect it.

I would really like something special to be done in the case of Virginia Halloran. Sadly, her health is beyond repair. But I believe that some good should come from Virginia's story, and on behalf of John, Virginia and Dan Halloran I ask: isn't there a better way? Isn't there a better way to deal with our mental health system than to leave individuals to their own devices, especially in a situation where somebody's cancer was not detected at the outset? Had it been, we know that Virginia would probably not be in the situation she is in today.