24 February 2020
That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in Australia; and
(b) 26 February 2020 is Teal Ribbon Day; and
(2) acknowledges that:
(a) ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer;
(b) every year, almost 1,600 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer;
(c) every year, approximately 1,000 Australian women die from ovarian cancer;
(d) in Australia, the overall five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 46 per cent; and
(e) there is currently no reliable screening test to aid detection and prevention.
There are people you meet who put life in clear and proper perspective. I first met Kristen Larsen and her sister, Elsa, at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital while they were advocating for more funding for ovarian cancer clinical trials. Kristen was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2013, at the age of 21. Kristen was one of the most charismatic, zesty and articulate warriors I've met. She lived by the motto 'If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough.' Even while undergoing years and years of gruelling treatment, Kristen was the loudest voice in the room, bringing awareness to ovarian cancer and fighting for better funding.
Every year, approximately 1,000 Australian women die from ovarian cancer. To Kristen, this was 1,000 women too many. Kristen knew firsthand that funding for ovarian cancer research and clinical trials was going to be the only hope for the 1,600 Australian women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Kristen also passionately believed that she needed to be vulnerable and share her story so that other women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, especially young women, weren't alone. Kristen was the Brisbane regional coordinator of the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group program Survivors Teaching Students and she chronicled her experience living with cancer on her blog and podcast Ovarshare, where she interviewed fellow survivors.
In 2019 Kristen was deservedly a Young Australian of the Year finalist, and one of my proudest days was working with Kristen and Elsa, alongside the member for Maribyrnong, the member for Ballarat and the member for Paterson here to secure $2.3 billion in a cancer plan as part of the ALP's election commitments in 2019. Kristen's compelling address to Parliament House in 2019 was instrumental in securing $20 million for ovarian cancer research and $15 million for clinical trials into gynaecological cancers, the highest ever amount of funding secured.
Unfortunately Kristen passed away on 9 December last year. Kristen did not believe that death meant losing the battle or the fight. Cancer did not beat Kristen. Kristen beat cancer by living an incredible life. So today I stand in this place to carry on Kristen's work and to honour her remarkable life. While Australia's overall cancer survival rates are the best in the world, only 46 out of every 100 women are still alive five years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With no screening test to aid detection and prevention, most women remain unaware they have ovarian cancer until it is at an advanced stage, with too little hope for a cure. Currently the best way of detecting the disease is to know and recognise the signs and symptoms. But the symptoms can be hard to pin down and are often hidden by women's tendency to be stoic in the face of pain and discomfort or mistaken for feeling tired or for going through menopause.
I commend the government for their $35 million commitment to funding ovarian and gynaecological cancer research and clinical trials, but it isn't good enough that Australian women currently must wait until they notice the symptoms of ovarian cancer as the best method for detecting something so deadly. We need early detection, we need treatment and we need the cure. We need them as soon as possible, because, like I said, 46 per cent of Australian women affected can't afford to wait five more years.
Kristen also spoke frequently about the hidden costs of cancer that not many Australians fully understand until they are faced with them head-on. Medical expenses and regular bills like utilities, school fees and groceries aren't paused or forgotten just because you're diagnosed with cancer. While your world stops on its axis, the world around you continues to spin. In Kristin's case, she ran out of treatment options in the public sector and had to go private. Even between her insurance and subsidies, the out-of-pocket expenses were a huge burden. Kristin spoke about one of her friends who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They had the same doctor and they needed the same drug, but it wasn't yet approved on the PBS. Kristin was able to qualify for the trial and participate for free, but her friend did not qualify and had to pay $6,000 every three weeks to participate. She eventually made the unimaginable decision to stop the trial because she couldn't afford it. She passed away.
I would like to finish by speaking about Kristin's sister, Elsa. When Kristin was diagnosed in 2013, Elsa put her career on hold without hesitation to become Kristin's caregiver and give her the best life possible. Kristin and Elsa were inseparable. Kristin and Elsa were magical. Now we must all follow in their wake. To Elsa: thank you for every minute that you gave. And to Kristin: you will be missed. Together you two achieved great things.