Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

It is an honour to speak on this matter of public importance in relation to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In 2006 my then 28-year-old sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. The next day, after trying for more than a year, she was given the news that should have been happy which was that she was pregnant. Luckily there is a happy ending to this story and that is that my niece will turn 10 years of age in March, and that my sister is still living healthily more than 10 years after her diagnosis of breast cancer. But for many cancer sufferers this is not the case.

I know members must be wondering why I am talking about breast cancer, when the topic is ovarian cancer month. The reason is that as a result of her youthful diagnosis of breast cancer, and family history, my sister was tested for the BRCA gene, and was found to be positive for this mutation, as was I. As members may know, this mutation is associated with an increased risk of not just breast cancer but also ovarian cancer, and a growing number of other cancers are being revealed through research such as melanoma, bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer and early onset prostate cancer. The problem with ovarian cancer is that it is a silent killer. The member for Swansea, the shadow Minister, articulately described the symptoms that are often overlooked by women. We have lost too many women to this terrible disease.

In fact, in my own family while we have had many diagnoses of breast cancer which have not resulted in deaths to this date, we have lost many of my father's aunts to ovarian cancer. There are often no signs of cancer of the ovaries until it is too late, and screening methods, as articulated by the member for Ku-ring-gai, are not as precise as, say, mammography or pap smear. In my case, in order to reduce the risk of both breast cancer and ovarian cancer, it was recommended that I undertake a risk reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, plunging me into a surgical menopause at the age of 36, while I was running a small business employing more than 25 staff and raising two young children. It was a radical and life-changing experience for me, and one that I would not wish on anyone. Even in the relatively few years since my surgery, less invasive and less impactful solutions have become available to women at heightened risk of this disease.

Ovarian Cancer Australia is the only national organisation that provides direct support to those living with ovarian cancer, both the women experiencing the disease and their loved ones, through support groups, phone support, online resources and more. It is so important that we support awareness and advocacy and research programs for ovarian cancer. I urge all members to attend the morning teal being co-hosted by the shadow Minister, and Minister, next week in this place and dig deep to contribute to this important cause. I also encourage members to attend a local afternoon teal fundraising event in Maitland on Sunday 26 February, and other events that may be held in their own communities. It is through these activities and the important work of Ovarian Cancer Australia that we will give women the knowledge they need to fight this terrible disease.