Mary O’brien’s Speech

Posted April 4, 2014, in

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the launch of our website, which has been developed as an adjunct to the Group for Women with Advanced Breast Cancer.

In particular I would like to welcome

The Honourable Anna Bligh MP
Deputy Premier,
Minister for State Development, Trade and Innovation
And our local member for South Brisbane.

The Honourable Mike Reynolds MP
Minister for Child Safety
Member for Townsville

Mrs Jo-Ann Miller MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health
Member for Bundamba

I would also like to welcome all those members of state parliament who have accepted our invitation to attend the launch this evening, and acknowledge those who have given their apologies, including The Honourable Premier Peter Beattie, The Honourable Desley Boyle, Minister for Environment, Local Government and Planning, and Women, The Honourable Linda Lavarch, Attorney General and Minister for Justice, and The Honourable Tim Mulherrin, Minister for Primary Industries.

I would like to welcome representatives from Queensland Health, and various community organizations, some of whom have travelled from as far as Townsville to be here tonight, and last, but not least, women, partners and families who are or have been involved in the groups for women with advanced breast cancer, and who have contributed to the development of the website for the service.

Before proceeding to the launch however, I wanted to give you some background to the development of the site and then to ask a few people to speak briefly about different aspects of the service.

The Group for Women with Advanced Breast Cancer was started in Brisbane in 1999 as a weekly face to face group led by Dr Bronwen Beacham and myself. As an experienced Group Psychotherapist, Bron had been approached some years earlier by Dr David Kissane to run such groups as part of a randomized controlled trial he was wishing to conduct. The trial was subsequently restricted to Melbourne, but having developed an interest in the idea of setting up such a group, and realizing that there were very few, if any, specific services for women with advanced breast cancer in Australia at that time, Bron and I decided to set up the group as a community based service.

In 2001 with the help of a small grant from the Qld Country Women’s Association (a representative of whom is here tonight) and Griffith University, we undertook the unusual step of using the telephone to deliver the weekly group, so that women in rural areas could also join the group, which we continued to deliver face to face from Brisbane. This step arose from enquiries we received from health professionals and women outside Brisbane and indeed outside Qld, wanting to know if we could assist them, as there were no similar support groups for women with advanced breast cancer in their area. This novel method of delivering the group turned out to be highly successful, with many women regarding the telephone group as a ‘life line’. We also found that the telephone had the advantage over other more complex technologies, such as video and computer technologies, since women could join the group from any land line phone in Australia and without leaving their home. This meant they could join even if they were sick and unable to travel. One woman amused us by regularly dialling in from the oncology ward while she was having chemo!

Since 2003 we have been funded by Qld Health as a non government community organization, and in November 2004 we started a second weekly group, as the first group became too large to adequately respond to the number of women attending. In 2003 we also started a monthly group for partners and adult family members of women, delivered in the same way as the groups for women – face to face and by telephone.

We are a small service, with only a handful of staff. Since Bron Beacham’s retirement, Pia Hirsch and I run the weekly groups for women, as well as overseeing and coordinating the overall service; Tom O’Brien and Alana Bolger run the monthly Partners group; Tina Gardiner, our Administrative Assistant, assists with our biannual newsletters to referrers and ensuring the 6 monthly evaluation questionnaires are administered to women attending the groups; and Jill Harris our Research Assistant, soon to be awarded her PhD, analyses the data that is gathered and assists us to present it in publications and presentations at conferences, both in Australia and overseas.

We have had the collegial support of Dr David Spiegel, and his team from Stanford University, who pioneered these kinds of groups for women with advanced breast cancer; and of Dr David Kissane and our Melbourne Group Psychotherapy colleagues, as well as closer to home, Jennifer Muller from Qld Health, Dr Jane Turner, Professor Patsy Yates, and all the other members of the recently formed Reference Advisory Group for the service.

The web site we are about to launch this evening, has come about in much the same way as the rest of the service – evolving in response to the needs of women and families, as these have become clearer to us.

I would like to express our special thanks to Ms Bligh for her continuing support for our service over the years. Not only has she agreed to host the launch this evening, and her office, through Tina Langford, has been very helpful to ensure the smooth running of tonight’s event, she has been active in assisting us to obtain recurrent funding for this innovative and important service, through Queensland Health. We would like to thank her for her efforts on our behalf.