For a newspaper, there can be no greater privilege than becoming involved in a campaign to save lives.
And that’s exactly what the Central Western Daily did with the campaign it launched in 2006 to convince state and federal Governments to contribute funds to set up a much-needed radiotherapy service in Orange.
When plans were first mooted for a new hospital to replace the Orange Base Hospital, there was a great sense of disappointment among medical professions and the community when there was no provision for a radiotherapy service for cancer patients.
A new $200 million hospital facility it seemed would automatically have included a linear accelerator.
That’s where the CWD came to the fore to rail against the inequity that existed between city and country patients diagnosed with cancer.
Editor Tony Rhead met with staff and a campaign was devised to convince governments this region was missing out on a vital service.
The paper appealed to its readers to tell the story of their battles with cancer. Scores of people who had been forced to leave their families and live in Sydney for weeks during radiotherapy treatment shared their personal ordeals. Accounts were published for months, at times almost on a daily basis.
To coincide with the March 2007 state election the CWD branded its campaign “Radiotherapy - demand an election promise”. A logo with that message for politicians ran on the masthead of the newspaper for almost a year as readers’ personal accounts and interviews with medical specialists continued.
Ten years prior to the 2006 campaign Orange cancer surgeon Dr Stuart Porges had tried in vain to convince health authorities of the inequity of denying his cancer patients the same access to cancer treatment.
“I have no doubt we would never have got our services which are in the hospital today if it wasn’t for the Central Western Daily,” Dr Porges said.
“When I was approached by the CWD and asked if I would help with a campaign I just wasn’t sure we could convince government.
“But what a wonderful outcome it has been for the people of Orange and the central west.”
As the campaign gained momentum mayor John Davis called a meeting to form the Radiotherapy Alliance on October 23, 2006 comprising local government representatives from the region, health professionals, interested stakeholders and CWD editor Tony Rhead.
The aim of the alliance was to gather support for the establishment of a radiotherapy unit in Orange to service the central and western regions of NSW.
Meanwhile the intense campaign continued in the CWD with readers calling us wanting to tell their own personal stories of the trials of accessing radiotherapy services away from this region.
Visiting politicians could not escape the questions from our journalists about a commitment to radiotherapy services.
As a result of the Radiotherapy Alliance, Cancer Care Western NSW was formed. Its focus was to raise $3.8 needed to build accommodation for cancer patients travelling to Orange. It was a community commitment the Labor government of the day expected if the radiotherapy unit was to have any chance of funding.
The federal government contributed $1.3 million and the NSW government allocated $500,000 to the lodge.
The CWD was in regular contact with head of the fundraising committee Jan Savage. Together we spread the word about the challenge, including extensive coverage of the Cruisin Along Rally out west, an initiative of mayor John Davis, which has raised $300,000 for the lodge.
The group was offered a weekly column in the CWD to help build momentum as members of Cancer Care Western NSW hit the road spreading the fundraising message.
“For five years the Central Western Daily gave us incredible support as we endeavoured to raise the funds and it was paramount in us achieving our goal for stage one and continues to be as we work towards raising funds for the stage two development for extra rooms,” Mrs Savage said.
Since the first linear accelerator began operation last year 432 patients have received treatment.
A second accelerator has been approved for installation and will begin operating early next year, doubling the number of patients that can be treated.