Family tells of cancer distress


Debbie Short's voice trembled as she told of her battle with breast cancer and the distress it had caused her young family.

Debbie, her husband Tim and their three daughters travelled from Tauranga to Wellington yesterday to appear before Parliament's health select committee. It was their chance to explain their 124,000-signature petition calling for free breast cancer tests for women from the age of 40.

Health Minister Annette King has said that screening will be extended to cover women aged 45 to 70 but the Short family says that does not go far enough.

Mr Short put an arm around his wife as she spoke of her struggle with cancer.

Mrs Short was 44 when doctors found eight malignant tumours in a breast. She had the breast removed but the cancer had spread to her chest wall and a lymph node.

Months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, and Mrs Short is now on cancer medication.

She said her trauma could have been avoided if she had been entitled to a free mammogram from the age of 40.

"My children have shared the trauma of diagnosis, grieved with me in the pain of surgery, . . . suffered with me on the days of nausea and shared the distress of tiredness from radiotherapy," she said.

"It's not just about a woman dying it's about partners, husbands, children."

Mrs Short and her daughters have written and performed a song urging women aged 40 to have mammograms, and a recording of their song was played to the select committee.

Auckland breast cancer doctor Jackie Blue presented a submission on behalf of 13 breast cancer specialists, in support of the petition.

Dr Blue said Ms King's decision to set the age of eligibility at 45, rather than 40, baffled her because research indicated that women in their early 40s had more aggressive forms of cancer than women in their late 40s.

She said cost and the availability of resources were the real reasons 40-year-old women were missing out on free mammograms.

Ms King has not ruled out eventually lowering the age limit to 40 but said she wanted to see the results of a comprehensive British study first.

The Government's year-long review of the screening programme had found clear signs that screening benefited older women but less conclusive evidence that lowering the age limit would help younger women.