An Ohauiti couple is looking forward to a 10 year milestone since they presented a petition to Parliament and swayed the Government to extend the age women are eligible for a free mammogram.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tim and Debbie Short are thrilled women can receive a free mammogram from age 45 – but are turning their attention to encouraging checks from age 40.
Ohauiti couple Tim and Debbie Short want women to get an annual mammogram from age 40 – 10 years on from successfully influencing the Government to offer free breast screening from age 45.
“Below 40, the risk of breast cancer drops of sharply,” says Tim, who with Debbie spent 18 months from 2002 to get the mammogram age eligibility changed from 50-64 years to 40-70.
The Shorts' petition ‘Early Detection is your Best Protection' gathered 125,000 signatures and saw the Government decide in February 2004 to change women's age eligibility for free mammograms from 45 to 69 years old.
The new rule came into effect in July 2004, defying a Health Minister who initially told the Shorts there was “no way the age was going to be lowered, it might increase it but it won't be lowered”.
The couple's quest began in November 2001 when Debbie, with three young children, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44.
“Going through treatment I met a lot of other younger women under the age of 50, about my age, going through the same thing.
“Then a study came out of Otago University saying statistics for New Zealand women surviving breast cancer was 28 per cent worse than that of Australia, which offered free mammography from age 40.
“From there we just researched what was done internationally.”
In August 2002, the Shorts held a public meeting at Greerton attended by politicians, breast cancer sufferers, doctors and health professionals.
“As a result of that, the inspiration for the petition came about,” says Tim.
“[In October 2002] we started in the Bay of Plenty and networked it throughout New Zealand.
“It just grew, it had a life of its own, it was so exciting,” says Debbie.
“Every day I'd run to the letterbox which was full [of signed petitions]. We had women all over the country contacting us.”
A year later the Shorts took their petition to Parliament on November 18, 2003.
Daughters Rebecca, then aged 15, Jacinda, 13, and Louisa, nine, sang on the steps of Parliament, and performed Debbie's breast cancer songs to the Health Select Committee. “There was hardly a dry eye in that room,” says Tim.
“We had a huge lot of support,” says Debbie, “And I just felt so passionate, and felt it was so important for women.”
The Shorts' 10 year milestone is on November 18, but the couple now have a new focus – encouraging women to begin mammograms at age 40 – five years before the testing become free.
“That's the message we really want people to take on-board.”