By Barbara Mason
The Breast Cancer Support Society was established in Auckland in the mid 1960’s initially to ensure women left hospital with a prosthesis. In the late 1980’s Barbara Holt, founder of Breast Cancer Network, was a committee member with this group. She first met co-founder Wendy Steenstra-Bloomfield and other founding members of Breast Cancer Network at the “Opening Up” seminars organised by Betsy Marshall of the Cancer Society. However they felt the need to form another group and wrote to 20 women who were survivors, supporters and health professionals. They drew ideas for the new national group from San Francisco’s ‘Breast Cancer Action.’
The first newsletter was written by Barbara Holt and produced in December 1993. Barbara Holt did almost everything – she was Chairperson, edited newsletters, networked, lobbied and handled the administration. She brought Nancy Evans from USA to New Zealand as a speaker, and promoted the environmental breast cancer movie, Rachel’s Daughters. Since 1998 BCN has employed a number of part time administrators whose efforts have kept the group functioning well – Dianne Speed, Nicola Timms, Sue Heiplik, Jennifer Woodroofe, Deirdre Parr, Heather Stonestreet, Bonnie Reid, Julianne O’Brien and now Anna Southern.
Originally called Breast Cancer Action Aotearoa NZ Inc, our name was changed to Breast Cancer Network NZ in 1998. This reflected an increasing number of breast cancer networks operating in Australia and Canada, and our view that it was more effective for breast cancer groups to work cooperatively. BCN initially worked towards the establishment of a free national screening programme and considered it a major milestone when BreastScreen Aotearoa was launched in 1998.
From 1999, when Barbara Holt left Auckland to live at Ruakaka, Gillian Woods acted as chairperson and Darien Kerkin was appointed Treasurer. In 2000 the logo was designed by Tracey Asher (see Kiwi Stories). Gillian became Chairperson from 2002 to 2004. During this time BCN developed an informative leaflet and bookmark. The introductory issue of Upfront and a new members’ pack was instituted, a website was set up and Stop Cancer Where it Starts was launched with the publication of two leaflets about risk reduction.
Working with representatives from the Auckland Breast Cancer Coalition from 2002 to 2003, BCN helped develop a proposal for a Breast Cancer Consumer Representation Programme. Dame Lois Muir agreed to become the patron of Breast Cancer Network, providing New Zealand women with a wonderfully positive role model for tackling their breast cancer journey.
To acknowledge the tenth anniversary of BCN in 2003 several small grants were made to breast cancer support groups around NZ, and another to a university research project in which BCN members participated. A Strategic Plan was developed and annual planning days took place. Submissions were sent to parliament. Members attended breast cancer conferences in Canada and in Australia.
In 2004 Barbara Mason was appointed Chairperson and coordinated the work of BCN for 4 years through the very busy period of the First National Conference and the 2006 BCN petition to Parliament. Barbara has worked on building the organisation, gaining new funding sources and establishing strong networks in both the breast cancer and scientific fields. She was also a tireless worker in the Stop Cancer Where it Starts project.
Working cooperatively with other groups has been achieved by distributing Upfront U Kaiora, participation in two Auckland coalitions, visits to breast cancer groups around the country, a national petition and in 2007, a national conference.
Breast Cancer Network Australia kindly supported BCN over several years. During the first 10 years BCN saw two major New Zealand groups set up and take on the raising of funds and awareness for breast cancer – the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and the Breast Cancer Research Trust. BCN has seen the rise of specialist breast surgeons and nurses, and specialist breast physicians (whose registration has unfortunately now been stopped) and the Cancer Control Council, all to women’s benefit. There have also been new treatments and more positive outcomes.
Meetings were initially held in Barbara Holt’s Auckland home, then in Everill Orr Village where BCN had their first office; later at a Community House in Pt Chevalier, and from 2001 to mid-2008 BCN enjoyed free office space provided by Bakers Delight, in Penrose. After several more moves the office is now situated in Green Bay.
A bequest of $10,000 was left to BCN by a member in the early days, and this was used to keep the organisation going and take on an Editor for the newsletter. The newsletter was called Upfront for the first time in mid-1999. In 2002 a similarly large sum was donated from Homecare when it wound up. BCN has received grants from COGS since 2000 and Lottery grants since 1995 and has been supported by a number of other generous sponsors.
BCN participated in, and made grants to research. Members took part in a project called ‘A pilot study to investigate the effects of soy milk as compared with dairy milk on disease risk parameters in a small group of New Zealand Women’ undertaken by Professor Lynnette Ferguson of Auckland University. A grant was made to Ray Simpkin of Device Works (IRL) for his non-ionising radiation imaging of breast tissue.
In 2007 BCN organised a very successful New Zealand-wide conference for those who had experienced breast cancer. This grew from the inspiring experience that BCN members enjoyed when they attended a Breast Cancer Network Australia conference in 2004. Dell Gee, Conference Convenor, and Jenny Clark, Treasurer, led the conference team with help from BCN National Committee and a great team in Rotorua.
An ongoing project is Stop Cancer Where it Starts which draws attention to breast cancer risk reduction and prevention. BCN have distributed several thousand life-style leaflets to healthy women since it was first published, and presented a petition to Parliament.
In November 2005 the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition was established in Auckland. BCN participated in the first initiatives and continues its membership and interest.
Breast Cancer Network welcomes enquiries and new members. Members are drawn from those who have experienced breast cancer and their families, supporters and health practitioners. The bimonthly magazine, now called Upfront U Kaiora, offers information and an opportunity to share your thoughts with others. Key services are information, promotion of breast cancer prevention and networking with other women.