2020 marked the 21st anniversary of the establishment of The Advanced Breast Cancer Group. This is a recap of how The ABCG has grown and expanded over the years to support women, partners and families in Queensland affected by metastatic breast cancer.
Over the 21 years that we have been running this service we have met incredible women, whose courage and willingness to face the harsh realities of life and death has been an inspiration. They and we have worked to increase the awareness of the particular needs of those who have this disease, and of their families. We are grateful to them, and to the several members of the community who have joined with us over the years to enrich the service.
Mary O’ Brien and Pia Hirsch
The Advanced Breast Cancer Group
The Advanced Breast Cancer Group began as a weekly face to face professionally led support group in Brisbane, led by Bronwen Beacham and Mary O’Brien. The group was established to provide an alternative to primary breast cancer support groups for women living with metastatic breast cancer. These women are confronted with unique challenges associated with a diagnosis of metastatic cancer.
ABCG became a Statewide group, with women able to join by telephone as well as face to face. Women from rural and regional Queensland said that the telephone was ‘the next best thing to face to face’ and a ‘lifeline’ to overcoming their isolation. The telephone also enables sick women from anywhere in the State to access the group.
Pia Hirsch took over from Bronwen Beacham, following her retirement, to join Mary O’Brien in the running of the ABCG.
The ABCG website was launched by Anna Bligh, then Deputy Premier of Queensland, to support and extend our service. The website was chosen to be archived in perpetuity as part of the Australian Pandora Archive and also by Queensland Health as a quality resource for training and support purposes.
The ABCG partnered with the Aussie Breast Cancer Forum bcaus.org.au to deliver a moderated online forum for people affected by breast cancer all across Australia. The Forum is no longer live, however the valuable information and experience of past members is still available to read.
The ABCG produced our first documentary film ‘You’re not alone – a film about living with secondary breast cancer’ in collaboration with women from The ABCG, Melissa Hines, a graduate from Griffith University Film School, representatives from the Cancer Council Queensland, Dr Jane Turner from the University of Queensland and Professor Patsy Yates, Queensland University of Technology. The film was launched by Quentin Bryce, then Governor of Queensland.
In 2009 we offered our first weekend workshop for women, partners and families involved in the group. Since 2012 we have run the workshops twice a year and have held 18 workshops to date (2020).
We produced two further documentary resources in 2010.
Walking Beside Her: a partners journey with secondary breast cancer.
Ask a Radiation Oncologist: common questions about radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer.
Both resources were launched by Anna Bligh, then Premier of Queensland, at the Griffith Film School.
“Blue Skies” was composed especially for the group by local composer Bernard Houston as part of his 52 songs project. Bernard was inspired by the courage of women involved in the group. The song was used in the soundtrack for our new DVD “Walking Beside Her: a Partner’s Journey with Secondary Breast Cancer” and captures the sentiments of many women.
The Memory Box Project, facilitated by Bernard Houston, culminated in a performance of women’s writings and stories, called Talking on Tuesdays, which was held at the State Library of Queensland. The Bribie Island Woodworking Group (the ‘Bribie Woodies’) donated beautiful hand-made boxes for the project and continue to do so.
For three years we faced a great deal of uncertainty over our ongoing funding from Queensland Health. Fortunately, a change of government in 2015 meant that our funding was reinstated and we were given certainty for the next four years.
Our documentary film, ‘Post Pink – living with advanced breast cancer’, was launched at the Griffith Film School by Jackie Trad, then Deputy Premier, and Cameron Dick, then Health Minister. The film has continued to be a significant resource for Health Professionals, families and women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
Our first regional workshop for women with advanced breast cancer and their partners and families was held in Cairns. We also held our first regional training workshop for Health Professionals, in Cairns, on topics related to supporting women living with advanced breast cancer through a Group Model of Care.
The ABCG website was refreshed to provide an even better experience for people visiting the site with more access to support resources and group information.
The second regional workshop was held in Toowoomba, hosted by Blush Cancer Care Inc. and Breast Care Nurses and Oncology staff of St Andrew’s Hospital. Mary and Pia facilitated a group discussion after the screening of our film Post Pink.
In October we filmed ‘what can I say’, a series of short films in which women from the group addressed difficult questions and comments about living with terminal cancer. Mary and Pia also answered questions about running The Advanced Breast Cancer Group.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, in mid-March 2020 we moved the group from face-to-face and telephone, to telephone only, and in August we transitioned to video conferencing. It was disappointing not meeting in person, however the women in the group were very accepting and responded with good humour, as did The ABCG team (pictured on the right).