Five years ago, on 5 September 2016, the Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre (AWRCC) opened its doors for the very first time.
Speaking at the official opening, Member for Farrer (and then Federal Health Minister) Sussan Ley remarked that “today is indeed a dream come true.”
“I want to recognise the community, because today is about you.”
Indeed, the $65 million facility was only made possible through the determination and hard work of an impassioned clinicians and community who campaigned and lobbied tirelessly.
In 2010, research led by Albury Wodonga Health’s (AWH) Director of Cancer Services, Dr Craig Underhill, made the link between a lack of cancer treatment centres and poor cancer survival in regional Australia.
The Australian Government responded with a competitive grant process to build 10 regional cancer centres.
After an initial bid for one of these 10 new regional cancer centres was rejected in April 2010, a public rally at the Commercial Club was attended by more than 400 people.
Led by Albury Wodonga Cancer Foundation Chair, the late Eric Turner, the rally highlighted the desperate need for a regional health facility to support the area’s 1,400 new cancer patients every year.
Within three weeks, more than 17,000 signatures were collected on a petition and a road-trip protest to Canberra was organised.
Community representatives, local government members, Mayors and councillors met on the lawns of Parliament to present the petition to the Federal Government, however were told that there was no money left in the budget.
Determined not to give up, on 19 August 2010, 1,400 women, men and children donned yellow ponchos and formed the shape of a heart on the Lincoln Causeway.
“A photo taken from a helicopter then became an icon for our cause,” said AWRCC Trust Fund founding member Jenny Black.
“It became the beating pulse of the heart of our region and appeared on the background of all communications to Ministers, being a persistent mosquito in their ears, conveying that we were not willing to give up.”
A revised submission was made and finally, after 18 months, it was announced on the ABC television program Q&A that Albury-Wodonga was successful in its bid for a new $65 million cancer centre.
“It was the most unbelievable result – a perfect university textbook example of a community working together for a proven need,” Jenny said.
Construction commenced in late 2013, and two years later the AWRCC welcomed its first patient.
In the five years since, the AWRCC has made a remarkable impact to the lives of cancer patients, and families, right across the region. Established as a public/private partnership between AWH and a number of private cancer services, the centre has provided world-class cancer care to the region.
Within the centre, Border Medical Oncology, a specialist medical practice dedicated to the treatment of cancer, lymphoma and leukaemia has conducted over 20,000 consultations in the past 12 months alone.
The Border Cancer Hospital of Ramsay Health Care has treated approximately 45,000 patients since opening, and GenesisCare deliver over 90 courses of radiation therapy each day.
Paired with the provision of world-class cancer care, access to new technologies has seen significant advances in cancer treatment.
With the fundraising support of the AWRCC Trust Fund, new skin graft equipment purchased in 2020 marked the beginning of reconstructive surgery on the Border, and in 2016 the procurement of an eBUS bronchoscope, used to detect lung cancers, has been used by over 700 patients and provided an earlier diagnosis and increased chance of survival.
“These continual advances have been made possible through the community’s support,” said AWH’s Board of Directors Chairman, Matt Burke OAM.
“It is a tribute to the power of a community working together, and understanding the importance of equitable access to health care in regional communities,” he said.
“A special acknowledgement must also be made to the local clinicians, who contributed immensely and acted as the face of the campaign.”
AWH’s Operational Manager of Cancer Services, Kate Everitt, reiterated this sentiment and reflected on the community’s role in helping to improve the treatment and care provided to local cancer patients and their families.
"The 5 year anniversary provides a timely opportunity to express our sincere thanks to our local communities, for their unwavering determination and advocacy for the centre to be built, and for their ongoing support which makes a meaningful difference to the experience of regionally-based cancer patients.”
"A very special acknowledgement must also be extended to the dedicated, caring and hard-working staff of the cancer centre, who consistently strive to deliver the best of care to patients and their families.”
"Happy 5th anniversary AWRCC!"