LOCAL MUM moves MOUNTAINS
Thanks to support from the Northern Beaches community and more than 100,000 signatures urging the government for vital funding, personal trainer Galy O'Connor is looking forward to a much brighter 2017.
Five years ago she was diagnosed with multicystic peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and since then has had 15 major operations.
She had been on a waiting list to see specialist surgeon Professor David Morris at Sydney's St George Hospital for over a year when a routine CT scan four months ago revealed the cysts had returned.
Galy was told she needed an urgent peritonectomy - major abdominal surgery which involves opening up the stomach and painstakingly removing the cancerous part of the lining.
"Each operation takes about 10 to 12 hours," Galy tells Peninsula Living. "It's a whole day with the chemo and everything and there a lot of people involved. St George Hospital is the only place they do it in NSW and it's the leading place in Australia so there were 25 people as well as me on the wait list."
Galy discovered that although Professor Morris and his team wanted to perform more operations each week to clear the waiting list, without funding it was impossible. So despite being in a great deal of pain and unable to eat properly, the 55-year-old took matters into her own hands.
"I never saw myself as a campaigner but I didn't know what else to do," she says. "I was on the wait list a year before that - I nearly died and had to be resuscitated. I didn't expect to take on premier Mike Baird but I had signed change.org petitions in the past and thought it was worth exploring."
Once she set up the online petition, things moved quickly and within days it had more than 60,000 signatures.
"I worked eight hours a day finding contacts, talking to people and trying to meet with politicians," says Galy, who received huge support from the community including St Augustine's College where her sons went to school.
"The school helped me, Virgin Active where I work helped me - it was a community effort and I can't say enough about what St Augustine's and [principal] Tim Cleary did to support the campaign," she adds. "I'm the face of it but it was a completely community-driven thing so it's been amazing."
Not only did the peninsula get behind Galy to share the petition but they emailed and called health minister Jillian Skinner and the premier in their thousands. On October 27, Galy received a call from Professor Morris to confirm she and the 25 others on the list will receive lifesaving surgery before the end of the year.
"I'm absolutely thrilled," she says. "It's bittersweet because what I have to face is huge, but I'm just so happy because so many people are able to have this operation now. If we didn't get it 2017 would be looking very bleak."