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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 102


Senator MOORE (7:20 PM) —This evening marks a fairly special date for me: exactly 12 months ago today I was told that I had breast cancer. Hearing that said to your face is a very confronting moment, and there is no preparation for it. You can know about the issue and you can have studied it. I was very fortunate because I was not taken by surprise about the issue of breast cancer. I was lucky enough to have been a member of the Australian Public Service. During the eighties, a wonderful organisation within the Australian Public Service called Queensland Women in the Public Service gathered women together on a range of social justice issues as well as development and training issues and worked to give information and make women feel stronger.

One of our causes in the late eighties was the then relatively unknown issue of breast cancer in the community. We knew it existed—people we knew had been diagnosed. But the range of options available was relatively unknown, as was the fact that hearing that you did have cancer was not necessarily the end of your chances; it could be just a way to make a change to your life. Even with that background, having known about the issue and having met and spoken with many women and their families, there is nothing that prepares you for that moment when you are told that you are one of those women—no longer just someone who is offering support and advice but rather someone who is living with the issue.

Tonight I need to give an amazing range of thankyous to so many people. When I was told that I had the condition I went along and had the normal tests—all the things that I knew about—but no-one can prepare you for knowing that it was going to be you going to the clinics, talking to the people and having those numerous test results in front of your face. The other thing is that within three days of being told that I had this condition I was able to be admitted to hospital to have surgery. It was another very difficult time, because when you are going through that preparation phase you do not know how bad it is going to be. You wait and you have to trust. There is no option to trusting in that situation. I was so fortunate to be able to have the services in Brisbane of the Wesley breast clinic there to help me. Amazingly, even though hundreds of women are going through that clinic every day, there was a sense that that clinic, those nurses, those doctors and those support staff were there for me. That is one of their strengths: they make you feel so valuable.

So many people now know the process in terms of the support that is available, the medication and then that magic moment when you have to go through the radiography, an issue that I had not faced until that time. Once again, there is that tremendous sense that you are fortunate because you are able to have that support and because you are sharing this service with so many other people. I do not think words can possibly explain the feeling of those daily visits to the clinic, sitting waiting for maybe two minutes within the system and those huge machines that cost millions of dollars that are there working to make you better.

When you are sitting there waiting to have your treatment, in a waiting room with up to 40 people and their friends and supporters, who are going through the same grind day after day—some getting good news, and you share the good news—you actually get to know the people over the 12 weeks of daily treatment. You get to know the people who are sharing this experience with you. You can sense when people have had good news and when they have had not-so-good news. It is funny, because my natural response was to try to keep this very close, very private and not to talk to people—to try and get through with what I hoped would be dignity and calm. That was accepted as well.

I said that it was very difficult to hear the news. The other aspect that is just as difficult is sharing that news with other people, telling other people that you have this illness—that no longer are you someone who knows about it but that you really know about it because you are living with it.

Recently on the ABC in Brisbane we had a series of information sessions on talkback radio. One of the local disc jockeys was talking about his own experience of finding out about a friend of his who had breast cancer, and the fact that he did not know what to say. This opened a stream of talkback calls that went on for several days, because people wanted to talk about their own experiences. They wanted to know, they wanted to share and they wanted to explain that there are no right words. People can think they have the right words and the right approach, but there are no right words.

I usually hate statistics, but the amazing statistics are that in Australia in 2000—which is a bit of a long time ago, but these are the most up-to-date figures—a total of 11,314 women and 86 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. Those are the people who actually went through the process and found out that they had this condition. Those 11,314 women and 86 men were all facing this condition in different ways but they all had to tell their families and friends about their condition. Suddenly they were a statistic, and that is pretty damn confronting—to find out that you are a statistic, that people are counting you and that they are looking at your `survival rate', a term I hoped I would never hear. But the term `survival rate' came out. I have been told that I am very fortunate. Because of the knowledge I had through working with Queensland Women in the Public Service, I was aware of the need to check regularly, to think about the possibility that I might have a condition.

When I felt something that was not right, I immediately went to the doctor. Despite all the information and education programs that there have been over the last 10 to 15 years, recent surveys have found that still there is some kind of blockage for many women against taking the step between knowing or thinking there is something wrong and actually seeking treatment. If there can be one message that can go out, it is this: please, please, when you think there is something that is not working right, when you feel a lump, when you are not sure, go to the doctor. One of the clear things that has come out in the research in the last few years is that the earlier people seek help, the greater their chance of survival will be.

I want to mention tonight a wonderful community based organisation which is linked to the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane, and it is called the Kim Walters Choices Program. This is a free community support program that has been set up in memory of a great woman, a young woman, Kim Walters, who unfortunately did not have a `survival rate'. But her family and her friends needed her memory to be celebrated, and the things that can be done are now part of the daily lives of many people who are facing this condition. People can access the range of choices to the extent they may need or they can just say hello. The choices program is there to give support to women, to men who also have this condition and to their families and friends. It supports kids of women who have the condition, who just want to talk about how they feel or want to be part of a playgroup. The program teaches new exercise programs, because one of things about breast cancer is that the treatments sometimes seem almost as bad as the condition and you have to survive a whole range of processes. Programs such as the Kim Walters Choices Program help you through that, making you strong when you want to be strong and letting you be weak when you need to be weak because they have acceptance and knowledge.

The Kim Walters program relies on community donations—and there have been community donations. I particularly want to mention the amazing work that schools are doing. Often the schools' fundraising work is being stimulated by knowing someone, a family member or a teacher, who is a breast cancer person—not a survivor, not a sufferer, but a person with breast cancer. My nieces go to school at St Hilda's Southport where they focused all their fundraising activity this year on breast cancer because one of their teachers has breast cancer. These kids had fundraisers and have worked together because they know they can make a difference. Research and support helps. Please remember that the people around you may be living with this condition and they need your support. We must have `survival rates' and we must have choices.