TIME TO ACT: Anthony Barling?s parents, Jan and Bruce, with their dog Mia. Picture: GEMMA-ROSE TURNBULL
TIME TO ACT: Anthony Barling?s parents, Jan and Bruce, with their dog Mia. Picture: GEMMA-ROSE TURNBULL

Family's plea on cancer care unit

By JANE GARDNER

FOR the last 21 months of Anthony Barling's life, the Alstonville teen was shunted between seven hospitals.

Anthony's cancer treatment should have been done locally.

But it couldn't, because we don't have an integrated cancer care unit in Lismore. All the discomfort and travelling costs to find proper treatment can be laid at the door of the NSW Government, and the Government should be ashamed of itself.

Anthony was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of connective tissue cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, five days after his 16th birthday on March 15, 2001.

From that moment on, life for Anthony and his family became a blur of driving, flying and passing time in crowded hospital waiting rooms.

Anthony's parents, Jan and Bruce, said that through it all, Anthony did not complain once, but they knew he craved his friends and hated the constant travelling, anonymous hospital staff and sharing wards with strangers.

"I don't think people realise the economic and emotional burden of travelling great distances at a time when you're stressed," Jan, a lecturer in nursing at SCU, said.

"The family unit disintegrates. One parent will have to stay and earn money, while the other is always travelling. If the radiotherapy had been local, it would have put less pressure on my family."

There were times when the city hospital staff were so unfamiliar with Anthony's condition they had no idea what stage his treatment was up to.

This is known as fragmented care. Yet, Stage 2 of the Lismore Base Hospital, which would provide a fully integrated cancer care unit with radiotherapy to treat cancer patients, appears to be at a standstill.

The Federal Government has $8 million to put toward it, but the State Government has failed to provide an estimated start date for the facility.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has threatened to give the money to private enterprise if NSW Health does not provide a start date by December 31.

Jan said this was not acceptable. "We have a very specialised medical and nursing staff, who know what they are on about, right here in Lismore. Cancer patients need the time to develop relationships with the staff," she said.

And even though he spent limited time in Lismore's current cancer facility, Anthony did. Four LBH nurses came to his funeral after he died on November 30, 2002.



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