Why this Queensland surgeon supports gynaecological cancer research

Gynaecological oncologist Andrea Garrett is part of the small team of dedicated surgeons at the Queensland Centre for Gynaecological Cancer Research. She was also one of the bold individuals to trek to Everest Base Camp with Cherish, raising vital funds for gynaecological cancer research. We talked with Andrea about why she thinks it’s so important to support research and why she’s joining this year’s Cherish Challenge.

“Most surgical units do some sort of research,” Andrea says. “I’m grateful to work in a team that comes up with ideas for research. It’s part of the ethos of our group to keep challenging practices, to not become complacent. I give Professor Andreas Obermair credit for encouraging us to be actively involved in the research.”

“Mostly through my public work at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, and sometimes through my private work at The Wesley Hospital, I enrol suitable patients in research clinical trials like feMMe and ECHO. Most of my patients are quite willing to participate in clinical trials because evidence shows that it leads to better health outcomes. That’s whether they get the ‘new’ treatment that’s being tested or not in a randomised controlled trial. Most women participate in research to improve treatment for future generations, not just to improve their journey.”

“Research is good. For patients, it moves treatment outcomes forward. As medical professionals, it moves us forward. We’re trialling ways to improve gynaecological cancer surgery,” Andrea says. “Our work is all about patient need, but, unfortunately, it’s increasingly difficult to get funding for it.”

Understanding the struggle to get funding for research, Andrea has actively supported Cherish for years. In April 2019, she joined the team trekking to Everest Base Camp for the first time to raise funds for gynaecological cancer research.

“I probably didn’t know what I was getting myself in for,” she laughs. “But I like active holidays, and I’m not one to sit still. At first, I was worried about raising enough money to go, but then I gave a talk at a Women’s Luncheon Group. Afterwards, the Group presented me with a donation cheque that helped to secure my spot on the team. By the time I left for Nepal, I’d raised about $16,000.”

“The camaraderie on the trek to Base Camp was incredible. We had doctors, nurses and cancer survivors on our team. It was challenging trekking uphill with a group of people I didn’t know (except for Andreas) and dealing with the altitude and the cold. Everyone had good days and not-so-good days, but thankfully these were usually different days for each person, so we could support each other.”

“Conversation helped to take my mind off the physical challenge,” Andrea says. “As a doctor, I found it interesting to talk with the patients in remission about their experience and find out what they’re doing now. The patients also had lots of questions, and I didn’t mind answering them because this work is part of who I am. I love what I do, so I’m willing to talk about it.”

Andrea may well get the opportunity to talk about gynaecological cancer in the red centre of Australia during the next Cherish Challenge. “I think the Larapinta Trail will be amazing. I’ve been to Uluru before, but it was a flying visit, and I’d love to get amongst the landscape.”