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20 June 2019
By Dean Lawson
Benefits ranging from clinical-service efficiencies to emotional support for patients and families underpinned a broad message at an official opening of the multi-million-dollar Wimmera Cancer Centre.
Speakers at a Horsham gathering included medical specialists and project leaders as well as cancer survivors and figureheads.
All had a similar message – the centre represented a major medical-service breakthrough for the region.
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Guests, including political and business leaders and medical professionals, rubbed shoulders with project benefactors and volunteers who collectively played key roles in quickly turning an idea into multi-million-dollar reality.
Wimmera Health Care Group chief executive Catherine Morley was emotional as she acknowledged the people who couldn’t attend the gathering.
“The apologies I make are acknowledgments for the people who couldn’t be present today,” she said.
“They are our loved ones, our colleagues, our family members, our day-to-day community members who have lived with cancer, kidney disease and chronic disease and who have accessed the services we offer in this facility.
“These people are the reason why individuals and organisations have dug so deeply into their pockets to assist us to build this amazing space.
“Because of the connection to these people I think you can feel the heart of the building. They are the people we need to acknowledge as our notable apologies.”
Wimmera Health Care Group board chair Marie Aitken, who led proceedings, said the project had been a story about life and living and working together.
“It’s a story about what matters – living life about the way we want to our lives,” she said. “In the Wimmera and southern Mallee five people are diagnosed with cancer every week, 2240 people are living with cancer and we have the highest rate of bowel cancer in the state.
“This building began as an idea, a dream and it quickly became a collaboration.
“It took off in a way that the board and the leadership team could have never anticipated.”
Mrs Aitken said the project had been the result of bipartisan political state and federal support and importantly, powerful community backing.
“The community contributed an amazing $1.8-million,” she said.
“Every donor, large or small, is really important. It has been an amazing Wimmera-wide project and our neighbouring health services have also contributed to the establishment of this building.”
Mrs Aitken also paid tribute to Horsham community advocate and inaugural Wimmera Health Care Group Foundation chairman Don Johns and Baade Harbour Australia architect Michael Harbour who were both heavily involved and died from cancer during the project.
“We wish Don Johns was here today to see the project come to light,” Mrs Aitken said.
“He was instrumental through his work through the foundation to make it happen.
“The story of this building is about living well with cancer, with renal dialysis and during the final stages of our lives.
“It’s a story about what matters to each and every one us.”
The health group foundation provided $420,000 for the project and foundation chairman Graeme Hardman took the audience through a project ‘journey’ from its inception in 2013.
He also praised the work of Mr Johns as well as project ambassador Rachael Littori who became the face of the foundation’s Rachael’s Wish fund-raising campaign.
He said the project finished with 1052 community donors, but the figure fell short of doing the contribution justice.
“There are really a lot more people who have made contributions,” he said.
“Donors included clubs and groups and organisations through which the community made its contribution.
“There were thousands of other people involved.
“The public support has been both tremendous and heart-warming and I can only imagine the countless thousands of hours of fundraising activities such as selling raffle tickets, conducting sausage sizzles, movie nights, lunches and gala and special events.
“This obviously involved a large number of generous people who were selfless in their efforts.
“The community should be extremely proud of what it has achieved and congratulations on a job well done are certainly in order. It really shows what can be achieved when you have a project that the regional whole-heartedly embraces.”
Long-term cancer patient Leonie Bird provided insight into what the new centre meant for people trying to cope while fighting this disease.
“For a patient and their families, treatment can be very time consuming. It can demand your attention and at times take over your life,” she said.
“For me, it’s about balance – meeting my cancer requirements without foregoing lifestyle, coping with change, developing new plans and goals to manage the ever-changing lifestyle.
“It’s about independence, having choice, some degree of control.
“It’s about knowledge, knowing where to access information.
“It’s about confidence, building relationships with the medical team, trusting that team.
“It’s about practical support when it’s needed and knowing where to access it.
“It’s about living well – having access to physical and social activities. It’s about connectiveness – a sense of being a member of the team and not an outsider.
“This amazing facility provides this access and support. It helps me navigate and I feel I have some control over my illness. I only have to walk in the door and I have help.”
Cancer specialist Professor George Kannourakis and Maria Safe from Royal Melbourne Hospital also spoke.
Rachael Littori, who while undergoing treatment for cancer wrote a letter to former Member for Mallee Andrew Broad to help build a new centre, a move that provided a fund-raising catalyst, and Jo Johns, the wife of Don Johns, unveiled a plaque to declare the centre open.