Cancer Council Victoria's support and information service including its cancer helpline is turning 20.
The service is funded completely by donations, and over the last 20 years has provided an extensive range of support and reliable information to over 750,000 people affected by cancer, more than 25% of which have been people in rural and regional areas.
Since its humble beginnings with only five staff answering calls in 1990, the Cancer Information and Support Service (CISS) has grown to a team of about 30, providing individualised support and accurate information across multiple platforms including online communities and one-on-one peer support.
Dr Amanda Hordern, PhD, Director of CISS, said that expertly trained nurses form the backbone of the unique and world-leading service.
"A cancer diagnosis can often be overwhelming since there is such a huge amount of information out there. For instance, there is a lot of unnecessary anxiety caused by self-diagnosis or reading conflicting information off the internet. By calling the Cancer Council Helpline, Victorians know they are receiving the most up-to-date and reliable information possible," Dr Hordern said.
National Volunteer Week (10 - 16 May) also offers the perfect setting to acknowledge the generosity of the service's trained volunteers who use their own experience to provide one-on-one support to people affected by cancer.
"Volunteers are our hidden army," Dr Hordern said. "They are brave enough to relive their own cancer experience every time they speak to a caller. It takes tremendous courage."
Dr Hordern said nearly 200 000 Victorians from regional or rural areas have made use of CISS programs, proving that Victorians trust CISS when in need of free, confidential and research-based cancer advice.
CISS came into existence in order to fill a void that existed for Victorians affected by cancer, according to Doreen Akkerman AM, who founded the service.
"Back then there weren't the number of cancer charities or support agencies there are now. If you were diagnosed with cancer you had pretty limited support options outside of your family, friends or GP," Ms Akkerman said.
"We took the best ideas from all around the world and developed a uniquely Australian support program, which has truly become the gold standard internationally," Ms Akkerman said.
Cancer Council Victoria is hosting a special event today (11 May) at Melbourne Town Hall to celebrate 20 years of CISS, and to acknowledge the vital work of all those involved, including the staff and volunteers who help Victorians who need it most.
1990: Doreen Akkerman appointed Manager of the first Cancer Information Service (CIS) staffed by cancer nurses in Australia.
1994: Helpline expands to become multilingual service.
1997: Collaborated with Latrobe University to deliver Australia's first breast care nursing education program.
2001: Doreen Akkerman appointed inaugural president of International Cancer Information Service Group.
2002: CISS reached more than 500,000 contacts within the Victorian community.
2006: Developed specialised program for cancer survivors
2007: World first Cancer Connect gene support program launched.
2008: Partnered with Cancer Council NSW to deliver new online support service.
2009: Launched prostate telephone support in partnership with MensLine Australia with funding from Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue: the national depression initiative.
2010: CISS celebrated 20 years of supporting Victorians and Dr Amanda Hordern appointed Director.