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World Cancer Day and 25 years of Cabrini Day Oncology

Date: 04/02/2013

Monday 4 February 2013 was World Cancer Day promoted by the Union for International Cancer Control and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The theme of the 2013 event is ‘Cancer: did you know?’ in an effort to improve general knowledge about cancer and dismiss misconceptions about the disease.

Importantly, World Cancer Day provides an opportunity to recognise and applaud the doctors, nurses, allied healthcare professionals, researchers, diagnostic experts, pharmacy, support staff and donors who enable Cabrini’s highly regarded and comprehensive cancer services to our patients and their families.

Recently Cabrini celebrated 25 years of day oncology services. Nowadays Cabrini is one of the busiest and most respected centres for cancer treatment in Victoria, but 25 years ago, oncology was new terrain for Cabrini.

Oncologist Associate Professor Ian Haines recalls setting up IVs for chemotherapy in a spare nurse’s office in between ward rounds at Cabrini Malvern. Nurse Marg Grylls, who began with the department a decade later, remembers a small Day Oncology Unit with just ten chairs, two of which ran off a corridor, with a third chair in a small room on its own. Across from that was “another tiny room with one bed” that was shared with the Sleep Unit. “They would be finishing as we were starting our day,” recalls Marg. “Cabrini now provides fully integrated, seamless care, from diagnosis and treatment to cure or death,” says Ian, “but if you’d told me we’d grow this big when I started out, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

A large purpose-built day centre with 21 chairs, five beds and an Apheresis unit for stem cell collection was opened at Cabrini Malvern in 2003 and in recent years more capacity has been created at Brighton, complementing inpatient services at both campuses. There are also comprehensive palliative care services based at Cabrini Prahran. It’s a far cry from the late 1980s, when oncology was emerging as a speciality in its own right, specialist doctors were thin on the ground in private hospitals and the multidisciplinary care teams that are now a hallmark of cancer care did not exist.

“Back then, medical oncology was considered by many hospitals as too complex. Cabrini patients needing chemotherapy were referred to public hospitals,” says Ian, who pays tribute to the leadership and vision of successive Cabrini Boards and executive teams in the evolution of oncology services.

“Earlier detection and advances in treatment and care have increased survival rates significantly, compared with 25 years ago. Today, cancer is more accepted by the community as a chronic illness. Thirty years ago, patients’ experiences of chemotherapy and radiotherapy were very negative due to their toxicity. The very mention of cancer was terrifying. Lots of people declined treatment.

 “I think that’s what made it such as good fit for Cabrini – there was that alignment with mission.”