Ovarian Cancer

13th November 2018

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (23:05:13):Today on average, three Australian women will die from ovarian cancer. Roughly four more women will be diagnosed and of those, two will be fortunate if they are alive five years from now. There is no proven method of prevention of ovarian cancer. While ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in Australian women, there is no regular screening program like there is for breast cancer. A few weeks ago I participated in the first Teal Sisters Walk at Warners Bay in Lake Macquarie. I walked with a wonderful local constituent, Liz Wright from Wangi Wangi, who had organised the event in conjunction with Ovarian Cancer Australia to raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer research. Liz taught me a lot about ovarian cancer and got me thinking about why we do not speak about it often, and why it does not get the coverage that other cancers get.

In June last year, Liz was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer—the deadliest women's cancer. It took doctors six months to diagnose her condition, as symptoms are often vague. Her intention was to raise awareness of the disease, and to educate more women about the signs and symptoms. About 40 people participated in the first Teal Sisters Walk. This was a good effort and no doubt there would have been many more people if not for the storms and strong winds that day. More than $5,000 was raised for Ovarian Cancer Australia due largely to the efforts of Liz and her husband, Jeff. Someone else who got me thinking about ovarian cancer was Jill Emberson, who is well known in the greater Newcastle area as a presenter on ABC 1233 Radio. Two years ago, Jill was given a terminal diagnosis; and no doubt, her world changed. Despite her fragile condition and a series of dreadful setbacks, Jill has recorded her journey in podcasts called "Still Jill". They intimately follow her proposal and impending marriage to partner, Ken Lambert, after a second chemotherapy program, and further raises awareness about ovarian cancer.

Jill's initial diagnosis was followed by surgery and what she calls "brutal" chemotherapy, but the cancer returned just a year later. She participated in a clinical trial of a new immunotherapy drug, but it unfortunately did not work. Then, in September 2017, she had emergency brain surgery after the cancer spread to her brain. She said, "The chemo I'm having now is nowhere near as heavy as the initial chemo, and that's because they know they can't save me now. What they are trying to do is knock the disease back so that it doesn't grow rapaciously, but so I can still function." Remarkably, Jill returned to the airwaves at the ABC in May to continue her podcasting. For a while she was also walking 10,000 steps a day to raise money for ovarian cancer research and support. She reached her fundraising goal of $5,000 in a day and has consistently raised her goal.

There are great organisations such as the Jane McGrath Foundation, which has achieved extraordinary results in educating and supporting women with breast cancer, and has raised extraordinary amounts of money for breast cancer research. It is wonderful that there have been great improvements in treatment and survivability of breast and other women's cancers, but this brings into stark relief that we do not have something equal for ovarian cancer, which is the number one reproductive cancer that kills women. As remarkable as Liz and Jill are, and as well as they may know their eventual fate, they are out there fighting on, not just for themselves, but for other women who will be diagnosed at some point in the future. There is great research being done in this field, but it is desperately underfunded. Much of that research is happening in my region at the Hunter Medical Research Institute. Jill and Liz are hopeful that they will be among the very first wave of women to take advantage of that research and subsequent clinical trials, rather than be on the last wave of women who miss out on it.

"At the point I am at, they don't like to give you a time," Jill said of her medical support team recently. "I am not that unwell yet, but the fact is that only 40 per cent of women who get this live beyond five years." "We shouldn't still be having the same treatment for this cancer that we had back in the seventies," she said. Jill is right. We must fund better research. We must raise further awareness. We must continue to strive for a cure, and not leave it to the brave and extraordinary women like Liz Wright and Jill Emberson.

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