ADJOURNMENT;Cancer – 18 Jun 2012

Let me share a few facts with you about cancer. One in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia. More than 43,000 people were estimated to have died from cancer in 2010. Nearly 15,000 more people die each year from cancer than 30 years ago, and this is due mainly to population growth and ageing.

While these statistics are sobering, there is also a great deal of positive news about cancer in Australia. For example, while the overall number of deaths from cancer has increased, the death rate—measured in numbers of deaths per 100,000 people—has actually fallen by 16 per cent. More than 60 per cent of cancer patients will survive more than five years after diagnosis, and for many common cancers the survival rate has increased by 30 per cent over the last two decades.

For much of the good news we have the Cancer Council of Australia to thank. As Australia’s peak national non-government cancer organisation, the Cancer Council of Australia advises the Australian government and other bodies on practices and policies to help prevent, detect and treat cancer. The Cancer Council also advocates for the rights of cancer patients to get the best treatment and supportive care.

I know about the fear and uncertainty that comes from being told that you have been diagnosed with cancer. I know what it is like to hear that dreaded word ‘cancer’ and I am testament to the fact that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. I know, as I said earlier, survival rates for cancer continue to improve over time. I was fortunate that when I was diagnosed I was treated early and able to make a full recovery.

My personal experience with cancer has been a powerful motivator for me to join the fight against this disease. Among other things, I am now a regular participant in the Cancer Council’s major fundraiser, Relay for Life. Relay for Life involves teams of participants walking or jogging around a track for about 20 hours. The event is held overnight, and each team has a baton which they are encouraged to keep moving for the whole event. This means that team members must work in shifts to make sure their baton stays on the track throughout the night and the early hours of the morning. The reason for the overnight effort is to promote understanding that, for many people suffering from cancer, there is little respite from the disease.

In the lead-up to the event, team members seek sponsorship for their efforts or the teams hold fundraising events such as barbecues or quiz nights. Relay for Life is held at various locations around Australia, and only last year—2011—started being held at the PCYC oval in Huonville in Southern Tasmania. I entered a team, Catryna’s Crusaders, in the Huon Valley event last year, and it was a pleasure to do so again this year. In our first year my team managed to raise $1,700 for the Cancer Council. We have improved on that fundraising in 2012 and have raised $2,500.

One of the things I like most about Relay for Life is the atmosphere of the event and the way everyone is working towards the one goal. There is a stage with music performances, a tug of war, a three-legged race competition and a series of ceremonies, including the opening and closing ceremonies, the luminary ceremony and the survivors’ lap. The luminary ceremony is particularly moving. Late in the evening, the teams stop walking and running around the track for a short while. Candles are lit and placed around the edge of the track in memory of family and loved ones who have died of cancer. A minute’s silence is observed, and helium balloons with lights inside them are released into the night sky. It is quite an emotional experience watching those balloons fly off into the darkness. The organisers encourage participants to really get into the spirit of the event and offer prizes for the best team site, the best baton and the most laps. There are also prizes for the highest team and individual fundraising totals.

For those who have not yet participated in Relay for Life, it is important to understand that it is not just a fundraiser. Relay for Life symbolises the fight against cancer. It recognises and celebrates survivors as well as the lives of sufferers who have lost the battle. It is a great family and community event. I participate in Relay for Life for all these reasons and more.

I would like to thank the members of my team, who worked together tirelessly to keep our baton going through the early hours of the morning. They include my husband, Robert; Dan; Scott; Colleen; Anna; Jackson; Laura; Octavia; Jeffrey; and the youngest member of my team, Caleb, who recently celebrated his ninth birthday. As well as participating for the weekend they also did an excellent job supporting the fundraising effort. I would also like to thank the organising committee for the Huon Valley Relay, and also the Lions Club of Huon and the Huon Valley branch of Rural Youth for their support of the event.

I also wish to thank sincerely the many people who sponsored Catryna’s Crusaders. Among the sponsors of my team were several of my parliamentary colleagues, including, in this place, Senator Carol Brown, Senator Furner, Senator McEwen, Senator Singh, Senator Moore and Senator Faulkner. I also have some sponsors in the other place, including the member for Franklin, Julie Collins; the member for McEwen, Rob Mitchell; the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd; the Member for Deakin, Mark Symon; and the member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh. I would also like to acknowledge a donation from my state colleague and Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings. All of these donations, and the others, have contributed to a team total of $2,500 for Catryna’s Crusaders.

While the number of teams in the Huon Valley event was down on the previous year, from 16 to 12, there were still over 300 participants. This year and last year the Huon Valley event raised around $60,000. This is quite significant. Australia wide, Relay for Life each year raises roughly $1 for every Australian. However, my home state of Tasmania punches above its weight—yet again—and each year raises nearly $1 million, or almost $2 for every Tasmanian. The Huon Valley’s fundraising effort equates roughly to $4 for each resident of the Huon Valley. It just goes to show what an incredible commitment this small but dedicated community has to fighting cancer, and I am very proud to be part of that effort.

While I understand that the Huon Valley Relay for Life may be taking a break in 2013, I will be ready to participate whenever they have their next event. However, I do look forward to the day when my team and Relay for Life as a whole are unnecessary. That will be the day when advances in medical technology have delivered us a world that is free of cancer. The steps that we take in Relay for Life symbolise the steps towards that vision. Every dollar we raise brings us closer to achieving it. I am confident that the goal of a cancer-free world can be achieved within my lifetime, and I encourage all senators in this place to join me on this journey.

While Relay for Life comes around once a year, the Cancer Council has a variety of other fundraisers, including Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea. Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea has been held every year since 1994 and in that time has raised over $70 million. On 6 June this year I held a morning tea in my office in Kingston as part of this national fundraiser, and I had about 20 local guests attend. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my staff for their work in helping to organise the morning tea, and I would also like to acknowledge the generous support of two local businesses south of Hobart in Tasmania, and they are Snuggle Down and Flynn’s Café, who both donated prizes. The morning tea in my office raised another $260 to support the Cancer Council and their fantastic work.

I would like to conclude this contribution by taking the opportunity to pay my respects to the late Senator Judith Adams. Ironically, Senator Adams lost her battle with cancer on the same weekend that I was participating in Relay for Life. Perhaps senators would like to reflect on this when their local Relay for Life events, or other Cancer Council fundraisers, come up. In memory of Senator Adams, and everyone else who has lost their battle with cancer, I encourage you all to make a donation to the Cancer Council, to join or start up a team in your local Relay next year or to host a morning tea. I believe that together we can help make cancer a thing of the past.