Cancer strikes 12 female staffers

by Tony Koch

April 06, 2005

A MONTH ago, ABC television journalist and Brisbane newsreader Jo-Anne Youngleson was on top of the world. The 31-year-old had been happily married for six months and was super-fit, training to run in a half-marathon.

But when a colleague was diagnosed with breast cancer, the 11th at the ABC's Brisbane studios in the past six years, Youngleson decided to have a check-up.

"I am so glad I picked up the phone that day. That call saved my life," she said yesterday.

The check revealed she was the 12th, and the youngest, to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the studios in the inner-city suburb of Toowong, where about 60 women work.

It is not known how many women have worked at the joint TV-radio facility on the Brisbane River in the past six years, so there is no way of knowing how the incidence of breast cancer at the studios compares with the national rate of one in 11 women.

Nevertheless, it is alarming that five of the 12 women share the same newsroom production desk, and at least three are in their 30s.

Youngleson and two of her colleagues - journalist Nadia Farha, 38, and newsreader Lisa Backhouse, 36, both married with two children - have agreed to talk of their plight so hundreds of former female employees of ABC Brisbane will have check-ups.

"I had six months of chemotherapy and then hormonal treatment. I walk around with this black cloud over me, and I hate that," said Farha.

Backhouse returned to work a month ago after surgery and chemotherapy.

"My hair has not grown back yet so I wear this wig, which is fine - at least I am always neat," she said.

"When you are diagnosed you really do lose all sense of future. For a young woman in the prime of her life with a young family, it's extremely difficult."

Michael Evans, an engineer from EMC Technologies, began testing yesterday for electromagnetic radiation and radio frequency emissions on the entire 1.5ha site.

A huge satellite dish and radio antenna are on the roof of the news complex.

ABC state manager Chris Wordsworth said occupational physician Keith Adams had been commissioned to conduct an epidemiological survey of staff to identify any links between the site and breast cancer reports.

State editor Fiona Crawford, who has worked in the Toowong newsroom for 14 years, said that despite the ABC's best endeavours, nothing on the site could be identified as causing the cancers.

"It is understandable people are frightened or searching for answers," she said.

Brisbane breast care specialist Petar Vujovic said the incidence of breast cancer among women in their 30s was dramatically lower than the overall national rate of 1 in 11.

Informant: Don Maisch



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