Gitti is beating the odds despite brain tumour
GITTI Harriman has had a golf ball-sized ticking time bomb in her head for six years but she's not about to let it destroy her positive view of life.
The 32-year-old mother of two and former teacher is undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the tumour that sits in her left temporal lobe, impacts her speech and causes her to have seizures.
"I couldn't believe it," the Gympie resident said of being diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
"I didn't know that much about cancer and tumours and I assumed that this was what I would die from.
"I just decided I would have to deal with it and we would do our best."
Ms Harriman said she was so concerned about her future that she and her fiance Innes moved their wedding plans forward.
"I was diagnosed in August, I got married in September and had surgery for a biopsy in October," she said.
While the next few years were a little rocky, the couple welcomed two sons - Freddy, now three years old, and George, now 18 months old - into the world.
Then last August, Ms Harriman had an awake craniotomy during which surgeons removed some of the tumour.
"It is a big risk because it is always growing," Ms Harriman said.
"It makes me have seizures and I have moments where I can't really be in a conversation because sometimes I can't understand what people are saying.
"Sometimes I don't even know if what I say makes sense and often I have headaches.
"I had an MRI a month ago and they said it was looking good.
"I'm feeling a lot better at the moment."
Ms Harriman said the tumour has had an interesting impact on the way she views the world.
"Sometimes I feel like it makes me listen in a deeper way," she said.
"It doesn't matter what someone is talking about because I see through what they're saying and I'll think 'They're a bit down at the moment'.
"This was something that never happened before.
"While I was going through the radiation I would lie down on the table, I'd have a mask on, I couldn't move my head but I would be zoned out and more at peace than I'd ever been before."
Ms Harriman said having cancer had changed her perspective on life.
"I feel like things happen for a reason," she said.
"I feel like I'm a lot more patient and I've become a lot more spiritual in the way that I think my children are a gift from God.
"I think God is there for you no matter what."
Cancer Council Queensland calls for more public investment in research and other initiatives to improving healthcare across our region
CANCER is our region's biggest killer.
ARM Newsdesk can reveal that cancer was behind 18.7% of the 1817 deaths in Gympie between 2010 and 2014.
Of the 340 people who died from cancer, the 2016 Social Health Atlas of Australia shows lung cancer claimed 84 lives, colorectal cancer killed 20 residents and breast cancer ended the lives of 20 women in the five years.
Circulatory system diseases were our region's second biggest killers, with 107 lives lost. Heart disease killed 55 residents and strokes cost 19 people their lives.
With 102 deaths, external causes were our region's third biggest killer.
These included 19 people dying in traffic accidents and 43 lives lost to suicide or self-harm.
Respiratory diseases were our fourth biggest killers, with 54 deaths over the five years.
Gympie residents were least likely to die of endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, with only 10 lives lost to these between 2010 and 2014.
The Cancer Council Queensland says 13% of Gympie cancer deaths can be prevented and cancer patients in regional and disadvantaged areas suffered "significantly worse" outcomes than urban patients.
"Possible reasons for these disparities include reduced access to health care and diagnostic or screening services as well as differences in cancer risk factors such as tobacco smoking, diet, alcohol consumption and physical activity," CCQ executive manager Katie Clift said.
"Those who live outside the reach of major health centres are more likely to die within five years of their cancer diagnosis.
"More research is needed to identify the reasons for the disparities and to develop targeted strategies that help close the gapfor regional and remote Queenslanders.
"Additional public investments in regionally specific research and translational initiatives are vital to improving healthcare for regional Queenslanders."
"It's crucial that all cancer patients, no matter where they live, have the best possible prospects of detecting cancer early and surviving their diagnosis."
Regional residents will benefit from an upgrade of CCQ's Herston lodge, which provides accommodation for people travelling to Brisbane for cancer treatment.
Breast Cancer Network Australia chief Christine Nolan said her organisation was investigating the gaps in cancer services and care across regional Australia.
"The experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer can differ greatly depending on where you live - and that shouldn't be the case," Ms Nolan said.
"As a society we have come a long way in breast cancer research, treatment and support services but there is still more to be done.
"We know there are considerable variations across the country in terms of what services and treatment people are able to access."
Death divides the genders
HEART disease and cancers are among the key reasons why more Gympie men die than women and why our male residents don't live as long as females.
Analysis of five years of death data for Gympie reveals 1040 men died during 2010-2014 compared to 777 women.
Males, on average, died at 76 years old while women generally reached 83.
PA Research Foundation's Dr Sandro Porceddu said about one in three men would be diagnosed with a cancer by the time they celebrate their 75th birthday.
Dr Porceddu said with men smoking and drinking more and experiencing obesity at higher rates than women, the easiest way to reduce the life expectancy gap was as simple as changing lifestyle choices.
"Men need to get serious about managing their cancer risk because their risk is higher than women and their life expectancy is shorter," the radiation oncologist said.
"Men need to reduce their smoking rates, aim for an ideal body weight and reduce their alcohol intake."
As men are less likely to go to their GP than women, the PA Research Foundation is urging employers to give their male workers an afternoon off to have their health assessed.
"The idea here is that there are risk factors that are preventable, men are more likely to be impacted by those risk factors but they are reluctant to go to their GP," Dr Porceddu said.
"It's the inherent issue of maleness. Men are generally workers who find it difficult to find time and who have the 'she'll be right attitude' approach to their health."
"We want to close the gap and most cancers are preventable by changing lifestyle factors and most cancers are curable if detected early, but the problem is getting men to go to see their GP."
- More info, visit www.menshealth.org.au.
Health insurance giant trials palliative care program to make life better for chronically ill
PRIVATE health patients across our region are expected to benefit from a new palliative care program being tested in Brisbane.
Insurance giant Bupa has joined forces with St Vincent's Health Australia to offer in-home intensive specialist medical services for people who have chronic illnesses or are in the last few days of their lives.
As well as practitioner visits, a nurse can stay with the patient and their family overnight to ensure the patient remains comfortable at all times. If the two-year trial is successful, Bupa says it will "explore" opportunities to extend the service to customers in regional centres.
This means more of our region's residents will have the option of dying at home as their private hospital supports them and their families and carers though home visits from doctors, specialist nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and counsellors.
If it is rolled out here, the program would also mean private palliative care patients could get direct access to a hospital bed instead of having to first present at an emergency department.
Ovarian cancer patient Mary Lou Houston said the in-home palliative care support was keeping her healthier and happier than she would be if she was hospitalised.
The 66-year-old mother and grandmother was given a five-year life expectancy in 2007.
Her body is finally caving in to the impacts of ongoing treatments, including irreversible damage to her kidneys and heart.
Mrs Houston spent 16 weeks in hospital last year.
"While we were in hospital my readings for my heart and kidneys weren't flash hot," she said.
"They asked me how I would feel if they called in the palliative care team.
"They said the team would help me a lot more than being in hospital."
Mrs Houston said she felt her physical and psychological well-being were much stronger thanks to the in-home support. .
She said it also meant and her husband Dennis was better able to care for her.
"The nurse and doctor come in and ask me how I'm going, they're always caring," she said.
"It's easier on me, it's easier on Dennis.
"It has helped me stay out of hospital," she said.
St Vincent's Private Hospital Brisbane chief Cheryle Royle said it made sense to offer at-home palliative care support was because it was cheaper than hospital admissions and much better for patients to be in their own surroundings.