People power behind PET scanner victory

WHEN the Illawarra's leading cancer clinician, Philip Clingan, summoned politicians of all persuasions to his office four months ago, they knew he meant business.

He had one thing on his mind - a $3 million positron emission tomography (PET) scanner to take the region forward in its fight against cancer.

Jack Piela, far left, and Keith Wilson, far right, celebrate with other Illawarra Cancer Carers after the news Wollongong Hospital is to receive a PET scanner. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Jack Piela, far left, and Keith Wilson, far right, celebrate with other Illawarra Cancer Carers after the news Wollongong Hospital is to receive a PET scanner. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

After enlisting Kiama MP Gareth Ward, he found a "really effective worker" in trade union activist Faye Campbell, and with Illawarra Cancer Carers representative Keith Wilson on board, the core group was ready to do battle.

On Thursday they triumphed - proving people power should not be underestimated. The 30,000 residents who signed the petition had been heard.

Ms Campbell ran from Parliament House to call Prof Clingan with the "jaw-dropping" news.

"He is away in Darwin. We were cheering when we rang him. We sang Happy Birthday down the phone and told him we got the machine, we actually got it."

Ms Campbell, a seasoned activist, knew a petition with 30,000 signatures couldn't be ignored. But she wasn't expecting an answer so soon.

"I certainly didn't expect it today, not as quickly as this. It nearly knocked us off our feet."

Prof Clingan wasn't so surprised.

"I thought if they've called us up for the debate, there must be an announcement," he said yesterday. "They wouldn't have bothered telling us ... You don't get too many petitions with 30,000 signatures. That's a fairly big percentage of our population.

"It just goes to show what a win this is for our community."

The campaign for the machine wasn't always plain sailing.

In July the St George Illawarra Dragons moved to play down their decision to bar supporters from campaigning outside WIN Stadium during a home game.

The club assured the community its support for the cause was "never in question".

Mr Ward said yesterday he wanted to surprise Illawarra residents who travelled to Sydney.

"I knew a bus-load of people were coming up, people who worked so hard on this, and I wanted to give them that bit of excitement, that little bit of hope," he said. "That's what gets you through when cancer is involved, a little hope."

The NSW government last week invited tenders for the provision of the PET scan machine at Wollongong Hospital. Space has been made available and the machine should be operating by January.

Ms Campbell yesterday praised the "bi-partisan approach" of Illawarra politicians.

"My appreciation goes to both Labor and Liberal politicians. All of them worked together very closely on this one. It is a credit to them."

For people with cancer, Prof Clingan explained, the machine was a breakthrough.

"It is completely different to an MRI or CT scan. They look at anatomy, while the PET scanner looks at the function of tumours," he said.

"The scan can tell you which part of a tumour is active, which part to attack, and it gives you an idea of whether or not the treatment is working."

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