Standing up for Canberra

Ovarian Cancer

The month of February was awash with teal. From coast to coast, teal ribbons, teal cupcakes and even a teal Old Parliament House brightened our nation like the crystal waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Teal is, of course, the colour of Ovarian Cancer Australia. For the past three years I have been proud to be a national ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia. Over that time I have witnessed the organisation grow from strength to strength. It has doubled its operation in the past 12 months alone, and 2014 proves to be another pivotal year for Ovarian Cancer Australia. The organisation recently announced its new national action plan. For the first time, Ovarian Cancer Australia will be branching out into research to complement their support and information services. The need for further research has never been more critical.

I would like to share with the parliament some of the sobering facts regarding ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer. It has a five-year survival rate, well below the average for all cancers. Each year more than 1,400 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and approximately 1,000 women die from the disease. That is the equivalent of one woman every eight hours. In Australia, the overall five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is only 43 per cent. In comparison, the overall five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 89 per cent. There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer. The best way of detecting the disease is to know and recognise the symptoms, which most commonly include abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, the need to urinate urgently or often, and feeling full after eating a small amount. Information and knowledge is the key to combating this insidious disease. That is why, in the month of February, hundreds of afternoon and morning teas are held throughout Australia—to raise both awareness and much needed funds.

Last Friday I hosted my own morning teal that included Olympian Nicole Livingston, residents of Higgins and health and medical researchers from around Melbourne. At the event we heard the inspirational story of Jane Lucas, a survivor of ovarian cancer, who recounted her ordeal when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Jane, however, is one of the lucky ones and is now living well. Sadly, too many do not get to tell their own stories.

We also heard from Associate Professor Clare Scott from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, where she heads up the ovarian cancer laboratory. Clare is doing some amazing work in treatments, including genome mapping, which allows doctors to tailor treatments rather than using the traditional one-size-fits-all approach. This cutting-edge research has the potential to unlock the secrets to long-term eradication of ovarian cancer. We as a government are proud of our record in the health and medical research space, identifying it as one of Australia's core competencies and quarantining it from any budget cuts. We also recognise that advances in health and medical research will deliver direct therapeutic benefits for Australian patients.

The morning teal provided an opportunity for those women present to learn about the disease and, more importantly, the symptoms to look for, and at the same time we raised over $7,000 for Ovarian Cancer Australia. I also hosted a drinks at Parliament House with fellow ambassador the member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, and at this event we raised just over $1,000. For the month, that totals a touch over $8,000. I would like to thank everyone who donated to this important cause, who came along and who in turn raised awareness in their own workplaces, communities and families. All those people who helped to organise these events I would like to thank for their wonderful efforts.

I would also like to thank and pay special acknowledgement to the entire Ovarian Cancer Australia team, especially the CEO, Alison Amos, and the chair, Paula Benson. I look forward to working with the OCA team in the upcoming year and wish them the best of luck with their endeavours. I pledge my support and to assist in any way I can to fight this sinister disease.

Finally, in this place I think it is entirely appropriate to recognise Senator Jeannie Ferris, who herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, horribly, succumbed to that disease in 2007. Rest in peace, Jeannie. For all the other women out there facing the same challenges: we are working for the cause, we are working to raise awareness and we are working for a cure.

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