To follow-up on the incredibly successful launch of the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign in Australia, I spent the last week meeting with cancer organizations, elected officials, and, most importantly, cancer survivors in the land down under. To say the least, Lance?s meetings and appearances during the Tour Down Under were still being felt. Cancer is increasingly becoming a greater part of the public dialogue in Australia, and the hard work of cancer organizations and survivors is seeing unmistakable progress. Also, I was honored to be asked to serve on the faculty of the 15th UICC Reach to Recovery International Breast Cancer Support Conference in Brisbane. All in all, the trip was a huge success and I would like to share some of the unbelievable details with you.
Day One, May 10th
I arrive in Sydney. After a 14 hour flight, I am feeling pretty good, actually. I thought I would need to get some serious rest, but I slept more than I expected on the plane. So I spend some time walking around the city, taking in the sights. Had some great food in Chinatown and spent the evening preparing for my meetings the next day.
Day Two, May 11th
I check out of the hotel and head to my meetings with Cancer Voices Australia, a national, independent non-governmental organization for people affected by all types of cancer, ensuring they have a voice at the table with federal agencies, clinical organizations and other key stakeholders working to improve cancer care in Australia. I am meeting with John Stubbs, Executive Officer of Cancer Voices Australia and Ashleigh Moore, Chairman of Cancer Voices South Australia. John is a survivor of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia and Ashleigh is a head and neck cancer survivor. Both John and Ashleigh are passionate and dedicated advocates and we talked about how we might work together to elevate the voices of survivors in Australia as the LAF has done in the U.S. They shared with me information about their priorities and the commitments they are submitting to attend the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit in Dublin in August. It was incredible to see the similarities between LAF and cancer voices, especially their collaborative work with other local, state and national cancer advocacy organizations.
After a great meeting, I am off to the airport to catch a flight to Brisbane, Queensland, site of the Reach to Recovery International Breast Cancer Support Conference. I have been invited by Professor Jeff Dunn, Cancer Council Queensland Chief Executive Officer and RTR Conference Chair to hold a pre-conference workshop on survivorship and speak at the closing plenary session. I check-in at the hotel at South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River and shoot over to the Convention Center for a faculty reception to catch-up with old friends and meet new ones. After learning a very cool secret (I will get to that later), we head over to the Government House for a special reception hosted by Penelope Wensley, AO, the Governor of Queensland. It is a beautiful old colonial house with amazing artwork and photos of all of the previous photos of Queensland?s Governors who have been appointed by the Queen of England. Her Excellency Penelope Wensley is a diplomat with more than 40 years experience and serves as the patron of Cancer Council Queensland. She was a most gracious host and after a lovely evening meeting the other faculty for the conference, I head back to the hotel to get ready for an early morning.
Day Three, May 12th
This morning I am co-facilitating a pre-conference workshop on identifying the unmet needs of cancer survivors and creating a personal action plan for doing something to meet those needs. I have the pleasure of presenting with my friend, Nancy Lins, Senior international Cancer Control Officer with the American Cancer Society. Nancy has more than 20 years experience with the ACS and has spent many years in international cancer control community. The three-hour workshop attracted more than 20 breast cancer survivors from Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, India, Kenya, and South Africa. All of these women were keenly interested in becoming an agent of social change for breast cancer survivors when they return home. We followed a similar process that the LAF used in our 2006 LIVESTRONG Summit that was so successful in engaging and motivating grassroots activity.
Next, I am off with a select group of six other faculty members to meet with the staff of Cancer Council Queensland. Cancer Council Queensland is a 47 year old organization that has contributed to the establishment of an internationally accredited research community in Queensland, and today provides vital prevention, early detection and support services for many tens of thousands of people affected by cancer. Included in their programs are world-class Breast Cancer Support Services that connects newly diagnosed women with trained volunteers who have previous experience breast cancer. I spoke to about 50 staff members of Cancer Counsel Queensland about the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Campaign and was in some impressive company:
? Nancy Lins, American Cancer Society
? Mary Onyango, Executive Director of the Kenya Breast Health Programme
? Ranjit Kaur, President of the Breast Cancer Welfare Association and Malaysian Breast Cancer Council
? Y.K. Sapru, Chairman & CEO of the Cancer Patients Aid Association in Mumbai
? Ann Steyn, President of Reach to Recovery International
? Diwakar Rajkarnikar, President of the Nepal Cancer Relief Society
Like I said, impressive. It was highly educational, entertaining, and inspiring to see the world these unbelievable leaders are doing to address cancer in their countries. It was also terrific to speak to t hem about how they can connect their work to the LIVESTRONG Global cancer Campaign. Lots to follow up on next week when I return home?
Finally, that evening, a reception to welcome the conference attendees (600 at last count, up from a previous record of 350 at the last RTR conference) was held at Parliament House where the Queensland State Government holds session. It was a festive evening with hundreds of survivors sporting pink and speeches from elected officials and conference leadership.
Day Four, May 13th
I am missing the opening day of the conference as I am heading to the airport for a flight to Canberra, Australia?s version of Washington D.C. I have a full day of meetings and this trip is especially timely as the Kevin Rudd, Australia?s Prime Minister released his federal budget to the public the previous evening. According to the Rudd budget, he plans to invest a record $2 billion (over 5 years) to build a world-class cancer care system in Australia, including investing in infrastructure at cancer centers, new cancer medicines, and improving cancer care, support and monitoring.
I start the day meeting with Steve Georganas, MP, Federal Member for Hinmarsh. He is also the Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee fort Health and Aging and was very interested in supporting the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit in Dublin. In fact, he invited the LAF to present to the entire committee at some point about our international work. He also pledges support for ensuring Australia is well-represented at the Summit to demonstrate their leadership in increasing cancer control efforts.
Next, it?s over to meet with Professor Jim Bishop, AO, Chief Medical Officer of the Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing. Professor Bishop was the Director of the Sydney Cancer Center and the Chief Cancer Officer of New South Wales until his appointment this year. We had a great meeting about oncology in Australia and his attendance at the Summit in Dublin. I was very lucky to be able to meet with Professor Bishop as his schedule was full dealing with H1N1. Australia is very lucky to have an oncologist of Professor Bishop?s caliber as their CMO, I think.
I then head over to Cancer Australia to meet with Professor David Currow, CEO. Cancer Australia was established on 2006 as the Australia Government agency to reduce disparities in cancer outcomes. They are doing some incredibly innovative things to engage various stakeholders in cancer research and I am eager to learn more about how we might apply some of these lessons in the U.S. as the LAF thinks about its evolving research strategies.
Finally, I am fortunate enough to have a meeting with the staff of Australian Treasurer, the Honorable Wayne Swan, MP. As I said before, they were more than busy having just released the federal budget the previous day. I met with his advisers, Janice Lee and Juanita Kerec about the LAF?s international work and expressed our strong desire to have a representative of the Australian government at the Summit whose stature matches the incredible commitment Australia is making to control cancer. They were very receptive and eager to convey our request to the Treasurer.
After a delicious meal and a good night?s sleep in Canberra, I am back to the Airport the next morning to return to Brisbane and the conference.
Day Four, May 14th
I actually have some time this morning to work on my presentation for the closing plenary session of the conference and spend a little time exploring Brisbane. I go for a great run along the Brisbane River. The weather is amazing and the South Bank Parklands is full of people walking, exercising and lounging at the man-made beach. I also head up to St. George Street where there is a HUGE outdoor mall so I can buy some gifts for my partner and son. Can?t come home empty-handed!
Later, I attend the RTR Awards Dinner at historic Brisbane City Hall. Presiding over the ceremony is the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman and local news anchor, Kay McGrath. I have the pleasure of sitting at the table with the 2009 William Rudder Foundation Fellow, Dr. Annette Stanton, a researcher from the University of California, Los Angeles who has received grant funding from the Lance Armstrong Foundation to study psychosocial and physical effects of people with a history of cancer. Dr. Stanton also opened the conference with a lecture entitled, ?Survivorship ? What helps and hinders women in coping with breast cancer. I was sorry to miss it as I heard it was both informative and inspiring.
I also meet yet another leader of Cancer Voices (Queensland affiliate, this time), Leonie Young, who is also serving as conference co-chair. Those Cancer Voices folks are everywhere! As well they should be.
The evening ends with a very moving presentation from the breast cancer survivors of Taiwan, who premiered the new Taiwanese PSA about breast cancer. Then, all 40 of the women from Taiwan gathered on the stage to dance a ?sign-language dance,? relating the impact cancer has on their lives and their spirit to overcome those challenges. It was beautiful to see so many women of all ages join together in this very expressive dance aimed at both healing themselves and educating other women about the impact of breast cancer in Taiwan. It was also announced that Taiwan will be the site of the 16th Reach to Recovery Conference in 2011. Gloria Lin, from the Taiwan Breast Cancer Alliance, thanked Reach to Recovery International for the opportunity to further promote the work of Reach to Recovery International in Taiwan and Asia more broadly. Ms Lin was also awarded the 2009 Teresa Lasser Award, for her voluntary contribution to the RTR breast cancer support network.
Day Five, May 15th
Last day. It has been a busy trip, but very productive I think. I have breakfast with Nancy Lins to continue discussing our international partnerships with the American Cancer Society. I return to my room to pack and prepare for my talk during the closing session of the conference. After checking out of the hotel, I have lunch with my new friend, Diwakar Rajkarnikar, and learn about his work to educate people about cancer in Nepal.
As I sit and wait for people to arrive in the conference hall of the closing session, I am approached by a number of people who are submitting commitments to come to the LIVESTRONG Summit in Dublin. I meet with Del Galang, President of Cancer Council Philippines and Renuka Prasad of the Indian Cancer Society. I also spend a good deal of time learning about ?Highways Beyond Cancer,? a project of Dr. Ritu Biyani Joseph , a dental surgeon who, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, began driving all across India to conduct awareness camps on breast, cervical and oral cancers for people in far flung areas, disseminating information and dispelling myths about cancer. You can learn more about her project at www.highwaysbeyondcancer.org.
As for the secret I mentioned earlier in the blog, at the closing session it was announced that RTR will transition from UICC to Cancer Council Queensland starting this year. This is a great move and Cancer Council Queensland will provide great support and leadership for the growth of the program so that even more breast cancer survivors can experience peer-to-peer support.
Finally, I give the closing plenary of the RTR Conference, thanking everyone for their hospitality and friendship. I am able to share the details of the LIVESTRONG Global Campaign and encourage everyone to join together so that we can make cancer a global priority. It was well received and I definitely know that I will see many faces in the audience in Dublin this summer. Unfortunately, I had to make a quick exit to make it through Queensland traffic to the airport for my flight back to the U.S.
In closing, more than 40 hours of flight time in a week was a small price to pay for all of the progress we are making in Australia. Hats off to the federal government for the significant financial commitment, to the NGO community for their tireless work and leadership, and to the survivor community for their spirit, drive and determination that holds us all accountable.