Senator Jeannie Ferris, from South Australia, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2005 and passed away in April 2007. Between those dates, she helped initiate the Senate Community Affairs References Committee on Gynaecological Cancer, increasing the Committee’s motivation, and providing a great sense of purpose for all its members. The late Professor Robert Sutherland AO, then Head of Cancer Research at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, told the Inquiry that many young researchers were forced to direct their careers to other cancers, such as breast or prostate, because much more charity money was available for research in these areas.
Senator Ferris was passionately committed to raising awareness about gynaecological cancer in Australia and to improving outcomes through research for all affected women. Her last speech to the Federal Parliament was to deliver the committee’s report, “Breaking the Silence: A National Voice for Gynaecological Cancers”, in 2006.
As part of its response to the report, the Federal Government committed to the establishment of a National Centre for Gynaecological Cancer. The Centre provides education and increased awareness about gynaecological cancers among medical and allied health professionals, and operates under the auspices of Cancer Australia.
Gynaecological cancers account for about 10% of cancers in women and 9% of cancer deaths. Senator Ferris and her colleagues on the committee had been made aware that more robust fundraising, with a sustainable base involving strong community, corporate and media relationships, was sorely needed if outcomes for gynaecological cancers were to improve. She confided to Professor Neville Hacker that her vision was to establish a national Foundation to raise money in all States and Territories for research into all gynaecological cancers. No such Foundation then existed, although there were several Foundations supporting single institutions.
In Australia, we have some of the world’s best clinical and applied research minds, but only with better financial support from organisations, philanthropists, corporate sponsors and individuals, can those researchers realise their full potential.
Inspired by Senator Ferris, Professor Hacker discussed the concept of a National Gynaecological Cancer Research Foundation with Professors Andreas Obermair, Michael Quinn and Michael Friedlander. He gained their enthusiastic support, and initial moves to start what was to become the Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation (AGCF) were commenced in 2011.
Ms Jean Kittson kindly agreed to become the inaugural Chair, and by 2014, the AGCF had a fully functioning Board of Directors, a Scientific Advisory Committee, (Chaired by Professor Michael Quinn), a website, and a growing list of supporters. AGCF became incorporated as a public company limited by guarantee in Australia, and an officially registered charity, endorsed by the Australian Tax Office as a deductible gift recipient.
The AGCF was officially launched by the then Federal Health Minister, The Honourable Susan Ley, on May 27th, 2015 at Parliament House in Canberra. The Chair of the Foundation was then Ms Diane Langmack OAM. Its first research Fellowship was awarded to Dr Dane Cheasley, from the Peter MacCallam Research Institute in early 2017.