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Days like these are about survival

By Gillian Batt - posted Monday, 29 October 2007

My first experience with breast cancer was as a six-year-old growing up in Warwickshire, England.

Monica was my mother's youngest sister. Unfortunately, her diagnosis came too late. At 29 she died of breast cancer, leaving behind three little girls. Even as a child I was well aware of the effect this had on my mother and her entire family.

Years later, on the other side of the world, I am reminded daily that cancer continues to devastate families. Each year our Cancer Helpline responds to about 22,000 people wanting information and support. For me that's good, because at least today we are talking about it.


About 13,000 women and 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in Australia. But they won't live with it alone. Breast cancer affects everyone who knows and loves them, their partners, friends, family and children. Sadly, in my group of friends I am not unusual in losing a family member to breast cancer.

We live in an age of greater awareness. The importance of regular mammograms, and being breast aware, is now well known. And after a diagnosis there are many support groups and services to help people cope with their cancer. Long gone are the days where "cancer" was a whispered word and families suffered in silence. Pink Ribbon Day and other breast cancer campaigns, and the tireless volunteers and organisations behind them, can take a lot of the credit.

To defeat cancer, and I mean all cancers, we need to learn from those who made breast cancer one of the most recognised health issues of our time.

For some cancers we still have a long way to go. I have been approached by men, and also by women, concerned that some cancers have faded into the background with the success of recent breast cancer campaigns.

Many people are uncertain of how to have their cancer story heard. I say to them: "Stand up and be counted." Let Pink Ribbon Day inspire you - know that you, too, can bring about change. Pink Ribbon Day has been driven by determined breast cancer survivors - that's why it's such a success.

At the risk of offending 50 per cent of the population, it is a fact that women have the upper hand when it comes to networking and fund-raising. About two-thirds of our volunteers are women, and the same goes for our fund-raisers. But men are beginning to follow the lead; the awareness of prostate cancer is steadily improving, aided by the success of Movember, a month of fund-raising dedicated to prostate cancer and depression.


However, lung, pancreatic and gynaecological cancers are still largely hidden. Their survival rates are poor and fewer survivors mean fewer people well enough to spread the message.

The Cancer Council has created Girls Night In for women affected by gynaecological cancers, to raise funds and awareness.

Today 85 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will survive longer than five years. In 1980 it was about 70 per cent. More women survive today because of better detection, greater awareness and more effective treatments. Everyone who has bought a pink ribbon, become a breast cancer challenger, or been part of the Field of Women should be proud.

This year the Cancer Council NSW is spending $11 million on research to find better ways to detect and treat cancer, and we are just one organisation.

Every cancer story is different and every one is worthy of our support and help. If you have experienced cancer or simply want to make a difference, know that you can. There are many cancer organisations that need assistance.

On Pink Ribbon Day, I'll be thinking about the aunt I didn't really get to know and the women in her generation whose chances of survival were a lot poorer. This day is a day of reflection and remembrance for many. For others it is a day of celebration. Survival rates have improved but while we still have breast cancer we need this day, and days like it, to keep up the momentum.

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First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 October, 2007

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About the Author

Gillian Batt is director, Cancer Information and Support Services, Cancer Council NSW.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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