How a day at the shops changed the course of Sami's life
AN ACHING shoulder on a Boxing Day shopping trip and a strange lump on the collarbone signalled a traumatic and life-changing journey for Sami Porter.
The Ipswich resident is remarkably candid about having a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction surgery and enduring intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy to beat cancer.
While she is now cancer free, there is still a giant shadow hanging over Ms Porter's life - the fact that she will never have children.
Ms Porter's cancer was hormone induced so that meant surgeons had to remove her ovaries to give her the best possible chance of surviving the disease.
"At the time I just thought 'Well, I don't have a partner' and the chances of me meeting someone who wanted kids was slim so I said 'Just take my ovaries',” Ms Porter says, her voice breaking as she starts to cry.
"I just wanted it over and done with.
"I've since met someone who really wants kids and I can't have kids so, yeah, it's hard.”
Ms Porter said the breast surgery was tough and she still experiences the impacts of chemotherapy two years after treatment ended.
"The chemo was hard,” she said. "I lost my hair, but that was fine because I had a few different wigs to wear and the good thing was I didn't have to shave my legs for six months.
"I lost my eyebrows and they still haven't really grown back fully.”
Since her life-changing diagnosis, Ms Porter said she found herself with a new perspective on life.
"I try to make the most of every day now,” the BCNA member said.
"I'm just doing things that I wouldn't have thought that I could do.
"I've walked the Great Wall of China and I did my first marathon last year, even though I wasn't physically capable of it at the time.
"It was to show people that it doesn't matter what you've been dealt, you can still do what you want to do.”
Ms Porter urged other women to make sure they checked their breasts and had regular mammograms.
"If you find a lump, please get it checked or if it doesn't feel right see your doctor,” she said.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women, with 48 females a day told they have the disease.
Breast Cancer Network Australia CEO Christine Nolan said that in 2017, about 17,586 women and 144 men would be diagnosed this year.
BCNA has a range of resources including the My Journey Kit for people newly diagnosed with breast cancer and Hope & Hurdles, for women and men living with metastatic breast cancer.
- Details: bcna.org.au or phone 1800 500 258.
Cancer Council Queensland calls for more public investment in research and other initiatives to improving healthcare across our region
CANCER is our region's biggest killer.
ARM Newsdesk can reveal that cancer was behind 17.8% of the 4595 deaths in Ipswich between 2010 and 2014.
Of the 822 people who died from cancer, the 2016 Social Health Atlas of Australia shows lung cancer claimed 181 lives, colorectal cancer killed 91 residents and breast cancer ended the lives of 64 women in the five years.
Circulatory system diseases were our region's second biggest killers, with 438 lives lost. Heart disease killed 222 residents and strokes cost 91 people their lives.
With 271 deaths, external causes were our region's third biggest killer.
These included 50 people dying in traffic accidents and 125 lives lost to suicide or self-harm.
Respiratory diseases were our fourth biggest killers, with 167 deaths over the five years.
Ipswich residents were least likely to die of endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, with only 79 lives lost to these between 2010 and 2014.
The Cancer Council Queensland says 13% of Ipswich cancer deaths can be prevented and cancer patients in regional and disadvantaged areas suffered "significantly worse” outcomes than urban patients.
"Possible reasons for these disparities include reduced access to health care and diagnostic or screening services as well as differences in cancer risk factors such as tobacco smoking, diet, alcohol consumption and physical activity,” CCQ executive manager Katie Clift said.
"Those who live outside the reach of major health centres are more likely to die within five years of their cancer diagnosis.
"More research is needed to identify the reasons for the disparities and to develop targeted strategies that help close the gapfor regional and remote Queenslanders.
"Additional public investments in regionally specific research and translational initiatives are vital to improving healthcare for regional Queenslanders.”
"It's crucial that all cancer patients, no matter where they live, have the best possible prospects of detecting cancer early and surviving their diagnosis.”
Regional residents will benefit from an upgrade of CCQ's Herston lodge, which provides accommodation for people travelling to Brisbane for cancer treatment.
Breast Cancer Network Australia chief Christine Nolan said her organisation was investigating the gaps in cancer services and care across regional Australia.
"The experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer can differ greatly depending on where you live - and that shouldn't be the case,” Ms Nolan said.
"As a society we have come a long way in breast cancer research, treatment and support services but there is still more to be done.
"We know there are considerable variations across the country in terms of what services and treatment people are able to access.”
Death divides the genders
HEART disease and cancers are among the key reasons why more Ispwich men die than women and why our male residents don't live as long as females.
Analysis of five years of death data for Ipswich reveals 2385 men died during 2010-2014 compared to 2210 women.
Males, on average, died at 73 years old while women generally reached 80.
PA Research Foundation's Dr Sandro Porceddu said about one in three men would be diagnosed with a cancer by the time they celebrate their 75th birthday.
Dr Porceddu said with men smoking and drinking more and experiencing obesity at higher rates than women, the easiest way to reduce the life expectancy gap was as simple as changing lifestyle choices.
"Men need to get serious about managing their cancer risk because their risk is higher than women and their life expectancy is shorter,” the radiation oncologist said.
"Men need to reduce their smoking rates, aim for an ideal body weight and reduce their alcohol intake.”
As men are less likely to go to their GP than women, the PA Research Foundation is urging employers to give their male workers an afternoon off to have their health assessed.
"The idea here is that there are risk factors that are preventable, men are more likely to be impacted by those risk factors but they are reluctant to go to their GP,” Dr Porceddu said.
"It's the inherent issue of maleness. Men are generally workers who find it difficult to find time and who have the 'she'll be right attitude' approach to their health.
"We want to close the gap and most cancers are preventable by changing lifestyle factors and most cancers are curable if detected early, but the problem is getting men to go to see their GP.”
- More info visit www.menshealth.org.au.
Health insurance giant trials palliative care program to make life better for chronically ill
PRIVATE health patients across our region are expected to benefit from a new palliative care program being tested in Brisbane.
Insurance giant Bupa has joined forces with St Vincent's Health Australia to offer in-home intensive specialist medical services for people who have chronic illnesses or are in the last few days of their lives.
As well as practitioner visits, a nurse can stay with the patient and their family overnight to ensure the patient remains comfortable at all times. If the two-year trial is successful, Bupa says it will "explore" opportunities to extend the service to customers in regional centres.
This means more of our region's residents will have the option of dying at home as their private hospital supports them and their families and carers though home visits from doctors, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and counsellors.
If it is rolled out here, the program would also mean private palliative care patients could get direct access to a hospital bed instead of having to first present at an emergency department.
Ovarian cancer patient Mary Lou Houston said the in-home palliative care support was keeping her healthier and happier than she would be if she was hospitalised.
The 66-year-old mother and grandmother was given a five-year life expectancy in 2007.
Her body is finally caving in to the impacts of ongoing treatments, including irreversible damage to her kidneys and heart.
Mrs Houston spent 16 weeks in hospital last year.
"While we were in hospital my readings for my heart and kidneys weren't flash hot," she said.
"They asked me how I would feel if they called in the palliative care team.
"They said the team would help me a lot more than being in hospital."
Mrs Houston said she felt her physical and psychological well-being were much stronger thanks to the in-home support. .
She said it also meant and her husband Dennis was better able to care for her.
"The nurse and doctor come in and ask me how I'm going, they're always caring," she said.
"It's easier on me, it's easier on Dennis.
"It has helped me stay out of hospital," she said.
St Vincent's Private Hospital Brisbane chief Cheryle Royle said it made sense to offer at-home palliative care support was because it was cheaper than hospital admissions and much better for patients to be in their own surroundings.