Team spirit and hope shine through at Cancer Council WA

IT’S mid morning at Cancer Council WA’s Milroy Lodge in Shenton Park when I’m taken on a tour of the premises and meet some of the inspiring people who work there, often as volunteers.

This year the Cancer Council clocks up 60 years of helping smooth the way for people with cancer, providing much-needed support and accommodation, especially for country people visiting the city for treatment.

First up I meet volunteer Lillian Yap in the wig room. This is filled with synthetic wigs from brunette to blonde, short and long, straight and curly which are fitted to help make women feel better about themselves while undergoing chemotherapy.

There are drawers filled with colourful turbans and scarves which provide a stylish accompaniment to any wardrobe.

Lillian has worked on and off for the council since 1999 and her empathy for helping women choose the right wig or turban shines through.

I’m reminded of the words from Cancer Council CEO Ashley Reid: “Our purpose is to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer, and since our inception in 1958 we have made some huge gains.

“Sixty years ago the chance of surviving a cancer diagnosis was between 30 and 40 per cent. Today survival rates for the most common cancers – such as breast and prostate cancer – are more than 90 per cent, and the overall five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with cancer is 68 per cent.

“This has been achieved by enormous investment in research to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment. In the last five years Cancer Council WA has invested more than $16 million of donor funds to local, world-class research, making us the biggest independent funder of cancer research in WA.

“Our education and prevention campaigns are world renowned – from Make Smoking History to SunSmart and the more recent LiveLighter campaigns, we pride ourselves on producing effective, high quality evidence-based information to empower West Australians to lower their cancer risk, as we know one in three cancers can be prevented.”

Mr Reid said that support services from the 13 11 20 information line, free counselling, financial and practical assistance, regional teams and accommodation services for people travelling to Perth for treatment, help more than 32,000 people each year to reduce the impact of a cancer diagnosis on individuals and families.”

Cancer Council volunteer
Five-year volunteer Peter Scott beside his bus

Back at Milroy Lodge, which mainly provides single-style accommodation, volunteer Peter Scott parks his bus and waits for people to board.

A volunteer for five years, Peter said his wife had been through cancer and he wanted: “to give something back.

“Besides, it’s nice meeting people and taking them to the various hospitals for treatment, including Fiona Stanley, Royal Perth and St John of God,” he said. ‘We also take people to shopping centres.”

Over at Crawford Lodge in Nedlands, which mainly provides couples’ accommodation, cheerful lodge receptionist Jacqui Angel is excitedly counting down the days until she has her luxuriant long brown hair shaved off to help raise funds for cancer.

Crawford Lodge receptionist Jacqui Angel

It seems fitting that a big vase of daffodils dominates her desk space. The daffodil, the Cancer Council emblem, is the symbol of hope and the first flower to bloom after winter.

Nationwide Daffodil Day this year is on Friday 24 August and helps raise funds for cancer. Every dollar raised in WA stays in WA and goes to Cancer Council WA.

I tour the well-appointed bedrooms with ensuites for country people staying at Crawford Lodge, then visit the dining room where a group of people are enjoying morning tea.

Terry and Irene Monk, from Pinjarra are staying at Crawford Lodge while Terry undergoes treatment.

“It’s made life so much easier and lessened the stress,” he says while 25-year volunteer June McVeigh smiles approvingly.

Last year there were more than 12,000 cancer diagnoses in WA, according to Ashley Reid.

Latest estimates show that 1.9 million Australians will have a personal history of cancer by 2040 which means that services will be needed more than ever before.

Some other statistics:

  • Since their opening, Cancer Council WA Crawford and Milroy Lodge has accommodated 35,000 country cancer patients with the average stay 10-11 nights. But often people stay for six to eight-week treatment cycles, sometimes longer.
  • To date, Cancer Council WA has contributed more than $47 million for 966 cancer research projects to enable WA cancer researchers to better understand cancer and discover more effective ways of treating the disease.
  • Around 87,000 West Australians are living with cancer in the community.
  • May is Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea month and every dollar raised goes toward the continuation of Cancer Council WA programs.
  • In a busy world it’s something we should all think about.
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Josephine Allison started her career in journalism at 18 as a cadet on the Geraldton Guardian newspaper. She realised her ambition to work on a daily newspaper when she later joined The West Australian where she spent almost 34 years covering everything from police courts to parliament, general news, the arts and real estate. After moving on from The West, she worked on several government short-term media contracts and part-time at a newspaper in Midland before joining Have a Go News in 2012. These days she enjoys writing about interesting people from various fields, often unsung heroes who have helped make WA a better place.