Cancer research focus on health gap

Fred Conway, Aboriginal elder and custodian of the Bidgera people, was flown to Brisbane after he was suddenly diagnosed with mouth cancer. PICTURE: CONTRIBUTED

More than 30,000 Queenslanders are diagnosed with cancer every year.

This raw statistic was shared by Cancer Council Queensland on Saturday, 4 February which marks World Cancer Day.

The council are using research to help close the gap for regional Queenslanders.

Many of these Queenslanders battle with distress, physical problems, and financial hardship throughout their cancer treatment and beyond.

To continue to support those impacted by cancer and ensure patients’ needs are met, Cancer Council Queensland will be conducting research to better understand the lived experiences of people faced with cancer, the assistance and support needed, and the current gaps in meeting these needs.

Their programs and services such as the 13 11 20 helpline, accommodation lodges, transport to treatment services, and psychological counselling exist to support the needs of the community, cancer patients and their families.

Cancer Council Queensland Head of Research, Professor Joanne Aitken said the research will connect with cancer patients throughout Queensland, as well as their loved ones and carers, to learn about their experiences from the time of cancer diagnosis.

“This research will help us understand how Queenslanders affected by cancer navigate the health system, what types of support they find most helpful, where existing services meet their needs, and where there are gaps,” she said.

“Managing your health and wellbeing through cancer treatment and beyond is difficult, especially for those who are disadvantaged by circumstances or distance.

“Cancer Council Queensland aims to ensure that every person who experiences cancer has the support they need.”

Cancer challenges in regional Queensland

Aboriginal elder and custodian of the Bidgera people, Fred Conway knows all too well the reality of having cancer while living in regional Queensland.

Working as a ranger at the Carnarvon Gorge National Park for most of his career, Fred never thought he would spend much time in the big city until he received a sudden diagnosis of mouth cancer.

“What started as a sore tooth, turned into a lump on my cheek that just kept getting bigger. I was finally told it was cancer and that there was a second lump in my lymph node,” Mr Conway said.

Due to limited access to necessary healthcare in his area, Fred was immediately flown to Brisbane to undergo a 20-hour operation followed by months of ongoing life-saving treatment, where he was introduced to Cancer Council Queensland’s accommodation lodges and transport to treatment services.

“I felt grateful but also guilty staying at the Charles Wanstall Apex Lodge because I’m not one to take things without giving anything in return, but the support I received from the staff really helped with my self-confidence and I want to give back in any way that I can.”

Fred’s diagnosis made him realise that there is not enough information and support out there for those in regional and Indigenous communities and that we need to fix that.

“We all have to die, but let’s die gracefully by old age and not by a disease. World Cancer Day gives us a voice to educate others and to give hope to Indigenous Queenslanders impacted by cancer,” he said.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO, Andrew Donne emphasised that closing the cancer care gap has always been and will continue to be a priority for Cancer Council Queensland.

“This upcoming research along with Fred’s positive experiences during his cancer journey, highlight the forward steps we’re taking to ensure equal access to cancer care and support for all Queenslanders,” he said.

“This World Cancer Day, we want to encourage the sharing of stories to educate others on the inequities people with cancer face.

“By doing so, we can lead Queenslanders in a partnership against cancer and gain a better understanding of how we can close these gaps once and for all.”