Meet Dr Jane Tracy

Meet Dr Jane Tracy, Director of the Centre for Development Disability Health at Monash Health. 

What is your role at Monash Health?

I am privileged to head up the Centre for Developmental Disability Health (CDDH) at Monash Health. The CDDH is a wonderful group of skilled and committed professionals working to improve the health of adults with intellectual and associated disabilities through a range of clinical, research and educational activities.

What makes you passionate about disability?

I trained and worked as a general practitioner prior to having my first child, Nick, 33 years ago. He has severe disability and, when he went off to school, I sought out opportunities to combine the expertise I had gained from being his mother with my medical knowledge and skills.

I was fortunate to meet, and be mentored by Dr Philip Graves, who ran the Paediatric Developmental Disabilities Clinics at Monash Health. I joined him in these clinics and, in 1993, also started working at the then new adult Centre for Developmental Disability Health at Monash University. I have worked in Disability Health ever since.

In 2015 our Centre joined Monash Health and this has created new and exciting opportunities to contribute to improving the health and healthcare of adults with intellectual and associated developmental disabilities. The health of people with intellectual disabilities in Australia is poor, with life expectancy being around 27 years less than the general population. I want to improve this outlook for my son, for his friends, and for all those with intellectual disability in our community.

What makes being on the disability subcommittee for Equity and Inclusion special to you?

Contributing to the Disability Subcommittee of the Equity and Inclusion Committee has provided an opportunity to contribute my personal and professional expertise to making Monash Health a more inclusive organisation.  I am passionate about the inclusion of people with disability in all facets of our community life. Inclusion in school is vital both for optimal educational outcomes, and to enable all children to understand the richness and benefits of a diverse community. Similarly, inclusion in the workplace enables us all to benefit from diverse perspectives, experiences and abilities.

As a health service, we can better address the needs of people with intellectual and associated developmental disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy, and, by doing so, improve health outcomes and quality of life. Our subcommittee’s focus on improving patient care and patient experience for this group of vulnerable Victorians is very important to me and I welcome the opportunity to contribute. I also know that if we get care right for people with intellectual disability, we will do so for many other vulnerable groups of patients.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Day of People with Disability?

International Day of People with Disability provides an opportunity to celebrate the value and contribution people with different abilities make to our community. It also gives us all an opportunity to think about what we can do to improve the opportunities and lives of Victorians with disability.

What small acts can we do to support people with disability?

  • When meeting someone with a disability, focus on the person and not the disability. Each one of us has far more in common than our differences.
  • When people have severe disability, their healthcare requires an effective and respectful partnership between their health professionals, those who support them in their daily life and, to the extent possible, the person him or herself.
  • As health professionals the starting point when assessing or treating someone with a disability is always how would I treat this person with this presentation/condition if s/he did not have a disability?
  • All our patients require an individual approach, and many require us to adjust our communication and management to meet their needs. People with disability are among those who require thoughtful, respectful patient centred care.

 

Meet Silvana

Meet Silvana, a Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist at Monash Children’s Hospital.

As part of National Psychology Week, Dr. Silvana Micallef shares what she is doing to support children during their cancer journey.

What is your role at Monash Health, and what does it entail?

I work as a Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist in the Children’s Cancer Centre at Monash Children’s Hospital.

Neuropsychologists are trained psychologists who study changes in thinking and behaviour that might arise from any form of brain injury or illness. Paediatric neuropsychologists are skilled in the assessment and understanding of the effects of brain disorders on children’s cognitive, behavioural, and emotional states. Neuropsychological testing allows us to paint a picture of the brain, much in the same way as any MRI or x-ray might. We can then readily identify areas of strength and weakness.

In my role as a Neuropsychologist in the Children’s Cancer Centre, I work with children who have brain tumours or leukaemia.

Why is neuropsychology important for children who have cancer? 

Neuropsychological assessment and monitoring of children with cancer, particularly brain cancer is important, especially as young children grow and move through key developmental periods.  In addition to the direct impact of cancer on the brain, the treatments used to combat cancer may also impact brain function.

The two most common cancer diagnoses of childhood – brain tumours and leukaemia – are most frequently associated with long-term cognitive and behavioural changes.  These changes may, in turn, have widespread consequences on other areas such as academic achievement, occupational success, and quality of life.  Therefore, ongoing neuropsychological assessment and intervention is essential, ensuring potential difficulties are addressed before they impact a child’s everyday functioning.

What is your favourite part of your role? 

My favourite part is working with children and their parents as they deal with the many challenges brought about by cancer.  It is a real privilege to help children and their family at a time when their lives have been turned upside down by illness.

I also get a chance to work with children who are many years down the track from their initial cancer diagnosis.  This means that I can be involved in their care over the long-term, which is very satisfying.

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate among all major cancers, with less than 7% of patients surviving past five years.

Every day over 1,250 people worldwide are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and approximately 1,180 will die from the disease.

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often may not occur during the early stages of the disease, however, they can include the following:

  • Digestive problems
  • Abdominal/mid-back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Change in stool
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • New-onset diabetes

The cause of pancreatic cancer is largely unknown, but there are various risk factors that can increase the likelihood of someone developing the disease, which include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis (chronic and hereditary)
  • Family history of pancreatic and/or other cancers

Early diagnosis is the key. Treatment for pancreatic cancer is more effective the earlier the disease is diagnosed.

If you or someone you know is regularly experiencing one or more of the symptoms above, please speak to your GP.

For more information visit https://www.pancare.org.au/

Merran Taylor empowers young breast cancer survivors

So Brave – Australia’s Young Women’s Breast Cancer Charity launched their third fundraising calendar featuring Monash Health employee Merran Taylor.

So Brave raises awareness and funding for breast cancer research while empowering young breast cancer survivors.

Merran Taylor, Clinical Coder, Health Information Services, was only 39 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Merran explains “The reason I chose to participate in the So Brave 2019 breast cancer fundraising calendar is I want to raise awareness with other women my age that it’s important to know your body and get anything that seems unusual checked. It’s okay to put you and your health first. I thought I was too young to get breast cancer.  I thought it was something that happened in your 50’s and 60’s or later. I didn’t feel sick – a bit tired but I don’t know a parent who isn’t.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in October 2015. I was a busy working mum of two young girls and put my health last on a long list of things I had to do. A lump had appeared about 6 weeks prior to diagnosis but I didn’t get it checked until a visit to the GP for something else. By that stage it had spread to my lymph nodes.

A week later I started neo-adjuvant treatment – 6 months of chemotherapy (losing my hair after 3 weeks) then 5 weeks of radiotherapy and finally a mastectomy, full lymph node clearance and reconstruction surgery. All up, my treatment took 12 months and it still continues as I will be on medication for at least the next 10 years.”

Merran was transformed by a body-paint artist and features in the 2019 third annual breast cancer fundraising calendar.

You can see Merran’s photo and read more about her story here.

Each year So Brave creates a captivating fundraising calendar featuring 12 young women who are breast cancer survivors. The women are transformed with body art and are photographed for the annual fundraising calendar. The photographs depict the metamorphosis that each young woman has gone through during their body paint photoshoot and breast cancer journey.

Young breast cancer survivor, CEO and Founder of So Brave, Rachelle Panitz, explains “The calendar is a celebration of the women and of their bravery in facing breast cancer and in sharing in this body painting experience to raise awareness and money to fight this disease. Our young breast cancer survivors truly are SO BRAVE.”

“2018 has been an incredible year of growth for So Brave and we are thrilled to be able to bring our beautiful imagery and mission to raise awareness to even more communities across Australia.

Our body painted young breast cancer survivors are iconic to our brand and signify the amazing beauty, strength and bravery of these young women. We hope to continue to raise awareness across Australia and fund vital research and education to ensure the next generation has better diagnosis, prevention, treatment and monitoring for breast cancer.”

So Brave has transformed 36 young breast cancer survivors. All survivors were diagnosed with breast cancer before they turned 40. The 2019 calendar features young women from Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, Queensland, WA and South Australia.

Funds raised from the sale of the 2019 Calendar will go to So Brave’s mission programs of empowerment, education and advocacy and directly funding breast cancer research.

Calendars are now on sale for $33 through the So Brave website.

National Nutrition Week

National Nutrition Week is 14 – 20 October.

The theme this year is “Small Change, Big Gains” which is part of Nutrition Australia’s annual Try for 5 campaign, which encourages Australians to consume the recommended 5 serves of vegetables each day.

Only 4% of Australians eat enough vegetables every day, with the average Australian only consuming half the recommended amount.

We are frequently replacing fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, nuts and seeds with processed foods, increasing our consumption of unhealthy fats, salts and sugars.

The food choices we make not only affect our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing.

Making small changes in our every day diet can have a significant impact on improving our health and wellbeing in the long term.

For more information on how you can make a change to improve your diet visit http://www.tryfor5.org.au/

Meet Bridget

Meet Bridget, a Graduate Dietician at Monash Health.

As part of National Nutrition Week, Bridget shares what we’re doing to support the health of people in our community and how to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

What is your role at Monash Health, and what does it entail?

I’m working as a Graduate Dietician, and this is my first year out of university. I worked for six months at Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, and have rotated to Dandenong Hospital.

I am currently working with sub-acute patients in a rehab setting to help them progress and achieve their goals. If they are undernourished or have lost a large amount of weight, then I help them to gain weight. I also work with patients to achieve weight loss. It depends on each patient’s needs.

In an acute setting I help patients meet their nutrient needs, especially when they are unwell, as different diseases can elevate a patient’s nutrition requirements.

What initiatives are you/your team currently working on?

Each dietician is involved in a different medical stream, and right now I’m involved in general medicine and rehab where there are many big projects. Everyone is involved in a project, whether it be gathering data or conducting their own research.

What is your favourite part of your role?

My favourite part is getting to work one on one with patients. I get the opportunity to talk to them, see what their concerns are and try to do as much as I can to help them. In a rehab setting, I get to see the outcome and how what I’m doing is working, which is really motivating.

It’s also really nice to work around like-minded colleagues. We get to bounce ideas off each other and you’re never alone, there is always someone there to talk to or answer your questions. As a graduate, I am able to go to senior staff who are more experienced and learn from them and ask for their help. We also get to be heavily involved in the team, advocate for our patients directly, chat to them face to face about our concerns and push for intervention.

Why is nutrition important?

Without energy and nutrients our bodies can’t function. If we don’t get enough energy, our brain can’t function, we can’t concentrate at work, engage in physical activity or recover, even if it’s just a scratch from falling over. There’s so many things that we can’t do without nutrition. We don’t only need energy, but also vitamins and minerals.

If you have a wound or have undergone surgery, you may not heal or recover if you don’t have enough nutrition in your diet. A lot patient’s require extra protein if they have surgery or a pressure injury in order to heal properly. If the patient doesn’t have a good diet, they are at risk of developing infections, complications and disease down the track. Without a good diet, you are compromising all aspects of your life.

What are your tips for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet?

It’s all about moderation. What it comes down to is educating yourself about the types of food that are good for your body and give you the most nutrition to do what you need to, and then trying to consume those foods in moderation.

We talk about there being bad foods, but essentially all food plays a role in our body, and we should remember that if consumed in the moderate and right amounts, they can be important and non-negative to our bodies. It’s about choosing which foods we shouldn’t have in excess and engaging in a healthy lifestyle. Try to choose something that is appropriate and sustainable in the long-term.

A fad diet may be successful in the short-term, but are you going to re-gain that weight in the long-term and is it realistic for you to follow that diet for the rest of your life? It’s about choosing what works for you, as what works for one person may not work for someone else. That’s why it’s really important to seek advice from dieticians, because we are trained to individualise our approach to each person. It’s very patient-centered and is targeted to what is going on with their health and what their habits are. There’s no one size fits all to a healthy way of eating, but eating fresh, wholesome foods and trying to avoid packaged foods is really as simple as it can be.

What do you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet?

I engage in daily exercise, which is not part of diet but is still part of being healthy. Exercise is a good stress reliever, makes you feel great and is also really good for your bones and muscles.
In terms of diet, I try to make sure that if my body feels like something, I give it a moderate amount of that and make sure I am pleased so that I’m not craving anything.

I try to have something every day that I enjoy and make sure that I look forward to my meals. I also have a varied diet, which includes dairy at breakfast and vegetables during lunch and dinner.
It’s about getting back to basics and trying not to over-complicate what healthy eating really is. It can be as easy as choosing fresh products and going to the markets. It’s also important not to cut whole food groups out of your diet, they are there because our body needs them, especially in the long-term.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women.

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.

Early detection of breast cancer through mammogram increases the chance of survival and ensures that women have all treatment options available to them.

Some people experience no symptoms, however symptoms can include:

  • New lumps or thickening in the breast or under the arm
  • Nipple sores, discharge or turning in
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast
  • Skin of the breast dimpling
  • Rash or red swollen breasts

There are various factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer, which include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Inheritance of mutations in the genes BRCA2, BRCA1 and CHEK2
  • Exposure to female hormones
  • Previous breast cancer diagnosis
  • Being overweight
  • Not enough physical activity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Benign breast disease or past exposure to radiation

BreastScreen Australia invites women between the ages of 50-74 to attend a free screening every two years.

Women aged between 40-49 or 75 and over are also eligible for a free screening.

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer and are aged between 40-49 or 75 and older, talk to your GP about whether you should have a mammogram.

Early detection is the best protection. For more information contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50 or visit their website.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

 

 

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, causing the death of more than 3,000 men each year.

The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. By the age of 75, 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In the early stages of prostate cancer, there can be no symptoms.

However, symptoms can include:

  • Frequent or sudden urge to urinate
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Discomfort when urinating
  • Blood in urine/semen
  • Pain in lower back, hips or upper thighs

There are a variety of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing prostate cancer, including age, genetics, diet and lifestyle.

Men can reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer by improving their diet, and participating in regular exercise and physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day.

If you are a man over the age of 50, or have a family history of prostate cancer, talk to your GP today and get checked.

For more information, please visit www.prostate.org.au

Meet Gaynor

Meet Gaynor Henderson, Health and Wellbeing Coordinator, People and Culture at Monash Health. As part of Women’s Health Week, Gaynor shares what we are doing to support women’s health, and the positive steps she is taking to improve her health and wellbeing.

What is your role at Monash Health and what does it entail?

My role is Health and Wellbeing Coordinator in the People and Culture Team at Monash Health. I implement and coordinate organisational health and wellbeing initiatives/programs for employees. We want our people to be happy, healthy and flourish.

As we spend a lot of our hours at work it’s the perfect setting to incorporate programs that help us improve our health and wellbeing. I am also very involved in Monash Care, which is our overall health and wellbeing strategy to promote, protect and support the health and wellbeing of our people.

What initiatives are you currently working on to promote and improve women’s health?

A lot of the programs I coordinate are open to all of our people, however, I feel they are particularly popular with women, not only because our organisation has a higher percentage of females but I feel as females nurture and care for others before themselves and need programs that are achievable and fit in with their life. By providing more programs in the workplace we are keen to provide that support to everyone with the convenience of improving health and wellbeing through programs in the workplace.

Some of the current initiatives I am working on include the 2018 Walking/Activity Challenge ‘Step for your Health’, coordinating “Retire Ready” information sessions, promotion for RUOK? Day on 13 September and a change to the supports provided through our Employee Assistance Program.

I am working with Monash Breast Screen to offer appointment times for employees and volunteers at Casey and Moorabbin Hospital during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. I have also worked on refining an internal 12 week Dietitian led Nutrition Management Program and am working with key stakeholders to look at the food options provided at our sites to fit within the Healthy Choices Government guidelines. We are working on making the healthier choice the easier choice.

Why is it important for women to put their health first?

As mentioned earlier, I feel women are not very good at nurturing and caring for themselves first. We are in an organisation where caring is at our core so not only is caring something we do at work, but we then go home to look after family and loved ones and this generally comes before looking after ourselves.

Everyone needs to look after their own health and wellbeing in order to be able to ride the challenges of life and support and look after those around them.

What can women do to improve their health and wellbeing?

I think most women know what they SHOULD or NEED to do. The first thing is to make sure it is right up there in our priorities and not feel guilty about thinking of ourselves. We all cannot look after, support and care for everyone else unless we look after ourselves.

Health and wellbeing needs to be built into current daily activities so it becomes a habit and we should seek out support where needed. Sometimes it is great, more enjoyable and supportive if we get a colleague or friend to join us in these activities.

What do you do to take time for yourself and make your health a priority?

I have my ups and down too and find life very busy and the first thing that can go from my agenda is looking after my health, so I consciously make it a priority and build it into my day. On work mornings I enjoy having a good start to the day by getting up earlier to go for a walk with my dog. I find this a nice time to get some fresh air, run over my plans for the day and take the time to notice my surroundings. Starting my morning this way gets my mind and body moving and ready for the day ahead.

On the weekends I go to the gym and actually schedule this into my day. For me, it is best doing this in the morning as I find that if I were to leave it until later in the day I get caught up with other tasks and then it just may not happen.

At work, I schedule a diary appointment for a Stretch Class at HealthWise Fitness Centre and a quick 5 minute walk up and down the steps each day. My Director and I also have walking catch up meetings. I tend to bring my lunch to work and enough healthy snacks or I keep some at work, so I am not hungry and tempted to purchase food.

Looking after my mental health is also very important and is possibly the one I find the hardest with so many things to consider, organise and think about. I find the best and easiest quick tool is to remember to take deep breaths, especially when I need to take stock and slow down.

Women’s Health Week

 

Women’s Health Week is 3-7 September.

The theme this year is “My health first” which encourages women to put themselves first and make their health a priority.

Women lead increasingly busy lives, balancing multiple demands and caring for others, making it difficult for them to find time to put their health first.

This week, take the time to check your health and make positive changes to maintain a healthy life.

Women’s Health Week is supported by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the health of women in Australia.

Learn more about how you can improve your health and wellbeing by visiting www.womenshealthweek.com.au