by Justine Doherty
Hawkesbury Gazette, Fairfax Media
Picture: Geoff Jones
Hawkesbury Hospital CEO Strephon Billinghurst in the new cancer treatment unit during fitout in April last year.
ONE of the biggest benefactors, Len Peel didn’t live to see it, but this week Hawkesbury history was made – the first patient was set to be treated at the Hawkesbury Living Cancer Trust Chemotherapy Unit.
It’s been eight years since the Richmond Club board of directors first raised the idea of the Hawkesbury’s own chemotherapy centre but now the long journey is over.
It’s been a triumph of community, with more than $2.3 million in donations making the centre a reality.
Housed in Hawkesbury Hospital’s community health building, it’s being run by Hawkesbury Living Cancer Trust, Nepean Cancer Care Centre and St John of God Healthcare.
Spokespeople for the trio were tight-lipped when the Gazette sought details about start of treatment, as they awaited confirmation of officials to attend the grand opening, slated for March.
In the meantime the first two patients had appointments to receive treatment on January 10, the start of a trial period to iron out any bugs, ensure all comforts needed by patients were in place, and make any last minute fine tunings.
A Nepean Blue Mountains Local health District spokesperson called the start a “soft opening” as it was a “complex service to deliver”.
“We didn’t want the first patients to have to deal with the official opening, cameras etc,” he said. “We want to deliver the care the patients need, and focus on caring for them at first.
“We want people to know however that you need to be referred by your specialist.”
Hawkesbury Living Cancer Trust’s chairman Duncan Guy said “I’m excited the building works are completed and the unit is commencing trials of treatment and I look forward to the opening”.
A source who did not wish to be named however said the three-bed centre had two patients a day this week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and that they would all receive a care pack prepared by the trust.
The packs contain tissues, sorbolene, tic tacs, chocolates, jellybeans, lavosh, water and vouchers for coffee and beauty treatments.
To ensure the multiple benefactors of the unit receive grateful recognition of their extraordinary donations, an “appreciation monitor” has been installed in the unit, with the stories and pictures of those whose generosity and efforts made the centre a reality.
Richmond Club CEO Kimberley Talbot has been involved from the very start, and said she was “extremely glad that the board of directors and Richmond Club had the vision to set up the Trust”.
“The trustees and committee have worked so hard to pull it together,” she said. “Finally we’ll be delivering treatment services so people don’t have to travel out of the district. It’s all about bringing services locally.”
While by far the biggest donations were the hard-hitting million dollars donated by Len and Margaret Peel in 2011 and in 2012 another million from the Kable family, there were donations of tens of thousands by community groups and businesses over the last five years in particular.
The Gazette has published 28 stories and letters on the community push for the centre, which chronicle its long and convoluted history.
Our first mention of it was the launch in October 2008 of the Trust, then called the Hawkesbury Living Cancer Foundation. Richmond High student Erik Hausoul, 17, was the patron when it was set up, until he died of osteosarcoma in November 2008.
Soon after it was renamed as a trust. A story in February 2011 said it was planned to be built in Richmond “on the block of land next to historic Tosca in Windsor Street”.
By June 2011 it was proposed to be built as part of a new wing of Hawkesbury Living nursing home on March Street in Richmond. It was to include eight chemotherapy and infusion beds, counselling services, and an underground carpark. At that point it was to be called the Len and Margaret Peel Chemotherapy and Infusion Unit.
Meanwhile the engine of fundraising roared ahead with entertainment nights, race days and other events like the Evergreen Turf/Dad and Dave’s Turf Charity race day in March 2012 which raised $90,000.
In July 2012 the centre’s location changed to the old Hawkesbury Hospital building in Windsor. It was said this was because the government told the trust it had to be on hospital grounds – the old hospital was considered close enough.
In October 2012 the state government came to the party with $100,000, a Community Building Partnership grant.
In January 2013 we reported on the Kable family’s amazing $1 million donation, another $33,000 from the Sydney Markets Foundation, $15,700 from Pitt Town Fishing Club and $5000 from Windsor Rotary.