Lillian Leigh gives thanks for every extra day she gets.
The 37-year-old Sydney mother is living with lung cancer, a deadly disease for which there is no cure and few effective treatments. But thanks to drug trials, her tumours have shrunk, her energy has returned and she’s been given the chance to see her daughter start kindy.
“Every time I open my eyes in the morning, I'm so grateful,” says Lillian, a lawyer turned lung cancer advocate. “I'm so grateful for every breath I take, for every extra day I get with my family, every extra day I get to be a school mum. Every single day counts.”
Lillian has thrown her support behind NSW’s first lung cancer centre dedicated to finding new treatments and ultimately a cure for the disease with the highest mortality rate of any cancer. The Centre for Lung Cancer Research, run from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, will shine a spotlight on the condition that is so often neglected by funders and hidden behind the banners of ‘no smoking’ campaigns.
Its opening ushers in a new era of lung cancer research to extend the lives of the 12,000 Australians – many young, fit and non-smoking - who are diagnosed with the condition every year.
Lillian, a beneficiary of a lung cancer drug trial launched in Melbourne, says the Centre launch can’t happen soon enough. “Think of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pretty much any other cancer and there’s a wealth of medical research underway into every aspect of the disease and how to beat it - but not so for lung cancer,” she says. “Lung cancer is the hidden cancer. We don’t have powerful lobby groups or celebrities backing our cause. Research funding opportunities are rare and the stigma, that victim-blaming mentality, is sadly alive and well in our community.”
The Centre, which opened on Wednesday, 18 April, will work to lift the profile of the disease, sending a clear message to funders, policy makers and the public that the lung cancer battle is a worthy cause, just like every other cancer.
The Centre for Lung Cancer Research will support large-scale research projects run from its high-tech purpose-built Glebe facilities, and act as a hub for a network of researchers, clinicians, respiratory physicians, oncologists, radiologists, thoracic surgeons and advocates for lung cancer. It’s high-tech laboratory, database and bio-bank will allow an unprecedented level of information sharing, ensuring patients get to benefit from new discoveries quicker than ever before. Several projects are already underway, including work to develop non-invasive diagnosis, innovative drug delivery and 3D-printed airway stents for patients with breathing difficulties.
Lillian, who is working with the Woolcock to establish the Network, says the centre gives her hope for future lung cancer patients. “It’s very exciting to see so much energy and expertise being poured into an area where it is so desperately needed,” she says. “It gives me hope that our voices, the voices of people with lung cancer, will finally be heard and that we can dare to wish for a better outcome than the status quo.”
“I want nothing more than to see my daughter start high school. Let’s make that dream a reality.”