In December 2003, soon after I came to this place, I had the experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was an experience that so many women share. When I went through my treatment at that time, with the good luck and fortune that I had, I said that I would try and make some kind of statement in this place on every anniversary of that time. I managed to do that once and, last year, if people remember, there were many pressing activities in this place and because of administrative and operational requirements the adjournment process was cancelled on a number of evenings. So at that time the Senate was spared my annual contribution on this particular issue. However, this evening I have the opportunity to catch up on that process .
Tonight I want to share with the Senate the experiences of a couple of good friends of mine. As we all know, the statistics that confront us as a community on this issue are damaging and almost soul destroying. The good thing for many people who are going through it, though, is that it is not soul destroying. It is terrible. It is very painful. It can be isolating. But in the case of my two close mates who are going through that journey at the moment, it has led us to be able to share in a special way experiences that we hope will be taken up by other people. Our experiences show that when you are going through the journey there are so many people around who want to be part of that and give you the assistance that they think you may require and who also have the strength to know that when you say, 'Go away and leave me alone' that it is not rude; it is actually your way of coping.
I want to talk particularly about a very good mate of mine who is now at the final stage of her treatment after being diagnosed late last year. She is an oncology nurse. She knows the process. She knows all about the theory of the treatment, working with the families and how it affects so many people in our community. What she did not know until November last year was that it was going to affect her and her own family. But the strength, the amazing resilience and the humour of this woman, whose friendship I treasure, has allowed her to survive the process. We had lunch together two weeks ago and, with her typical excitement and joy of experiencing all, she talked about getting just about every possible side effect she could get from the range of treatment she had, though not as bad as some people experience. We found we shared that experience as well. I think that one of the things about going through the cancer journey is that every time along the road where you think it is too much and you just cannot take the next step, you can look around and see so many people who are going through much worse than you are. Somehow it seems that you do not have the choice to stop and get off the boat because other people are there with you. In talking to my mate she explained that it is her small group of friends, mainly those who share her nursing profession, who have kept her grounded as she has worked through the original diagnosis, the desire to run away from it and pretend it did not happen and the range of treatments that we are so fortunate to have in this country.
Because of her background, my mate chose to go through the public hospital system. She has been blessed with the amount of support she has received and the extraordinarily effective treatments both through the chemotherapy process and through the radiography treatment that she is undergoing at this moment. She has lost all her hair and now has a delightful series of very poor taste scarves. She has purchased a wig so that when she returns to her profession, which she intends doing very soon, she will be able to astound her comrades with the various colours of hair, not just her own. She will be able to create moods to take her through the process.
The thing that she treasures most is the support and love of the friends who are around her. We were laughing about the fact that somehow it is not until you are actually there that you can value those friendships. Because they are a group of nurses, they have a particular relationship and I think they have a very special way of expressing themselves and their humour. At all times they are there on call for her. To watch the way these relationships, which are over 20 years duration, have been able to weather the storm of one of their own number going through the process has been, I think, an astounding experience for all of us.
She does not know that I am speaking about her tonight and she will probably be a little traumatised by the process. But her own story is one that has been played out in the Queensland media because she is a state politician. When she was originally diagnosed, she had to make that decision about whether she was going to go public and let everyone know it was going to happen or whether to react later. The decision she made was that she and her family would go public. Now her story is going to become one of inspiration for all those women who receive that diagnosis. On current statistics, over 50 women will have probably received that message today. Somewhere in Australia through various processes-through mammogram clinics or their local doctor-they will have received news today that they are going to start the process of treatment. The methodology which they choose to take up will be very personal for each of them. The range of treatment is there but, in terms of the way they focus on the experience, each woman will have to make her own choice. The experience of my mate, I think, will give some inspiration to many of us who are working through this process. We will be able to show that the cancer journey is one that never ends, but we can work through it. We have talked about that in this place before. My friend has been called several times in the last few months to work with other women who are also at different stages in their treatments. Always she is available for them.
I want to put on record this evening some information about her journey and some information, once again, about the value which cannot be measured of the various networks that we can surround ourselves with as we are going through this process. Some of those networks are provided by the hospital system, but mostly we rely on our friends, families and those around us. In terms of our national networks, at the moment there is a very successful advertising campaign, which has caught the imagination of younger women. In recent statistics there is increasing evidence of breast cancer in women in their 30s. That is something that until recently people did not fully understand. It was something that we would turn away from rather than say that women of all ages should look, check and make sure that they are following the key signs that doctors tell us about. For all those women who are working through this process at the moment, there is a network there for you. My friend, who is just about to return to full-time work, knows that so many people are supporting her. She knows that she will get the best possible medical support. As we said last week, the most important thing is knowing that there are people who truly understand what the experience is all about, who will give as much as you are prepared to take and will keep the message alive for the other women in Australia. It is not enough to know about the theory of this illness, it is not enough to read the leaflets and get into intelligent academic conversations; the important thing is to understand that it could happen to any one of us at any time. There are so many people wanting to give support, and this journey is best travelled with the friends and the support that are there.
27 February, 2006