Bilyk’s Senate committee investigates rare cancer research

Carly Dolan

Launceston’s Brett Withington hopes a federal Senate committee investigation into rare cancers will be a step towards reducing some of the shocking mortality rates.

His dad Gil died in March at the age of 70, three months after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Mr Withington was one of more than 250 Australians who made a submission to the select committee, set up by Tasmanian Senator Catryna Bilyk.

Senator Bilyk, who had two tumours removed from her brain in 2008, set up the committee in December last year.

It followed a study released by Cancer Australia that found brain cancer research received proportionally low funding.

Mr Withington saw an interview with well-known Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo on breakfast television around the time his father was diagnosed.

“When Dr Teo went through medical school, there was a 90 per cent chance that people would pass away from leukaemia, and now, there’s a 90 per cent chance of survival pretty much,” he said.

“So I realised that due to the fact there was research being done on that particular disease, that perhaps the same thing could happen with brain cancer if they were given the same funding and research opportunities.

“It became important at the time – I realised it wasn’t going to make any difference to my dad’s life but maybe if it does to other people, so they don’t have to go through what we went through, that would be a good thing.”

Only two out of every 10 people with a brain cancer prognosis will survive more than five years.

“Brain cancer kills more kids than any other diseases, so it’s not just people my dad’s age affected,” Mr Withington said.

“I hope through this committee some more research and more funding will help decrease the amount of people that are dying from this disease and increase awareness of it as well.”

Mr Withington remembers his dad as an “active, healthy bloke”.

“We’ve had so many wonderful comments about what a kind, helpful bloke he was, which we knew, but we didn’t realise how many other people he’d touched and how many lives he’d affected.”

He said it was hard to watch his father fade away during those last few months.

“You’d have conversations with him and you weren’t sure if he was taking it in.

“You watch the person you’ve known your whole life just fade in front of you, mind first.”

Submissions to the select committee closed at the end of March and public hearings will continue throughout this year.

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