"Isn't it great to be part of a success story?"
So said Wimmera Health Care Group Foundation chairman Graeme Hardman, at the official opening of the Wimmera Cancer Centre on Wednesday afternoon.
Addressing a room of 100 people, including patients, politicians, donors and doctors from beyond the region, Mr Hardman said the Wimmera community "should be extremely proud with what it has achieved, a job extremely well done".
"At the time of building, there were 1052 donors contributing in excess of $1.8 million. Of those, there were clubs, groups and organisations to which hundreds of other community members made their contribution," he said.
The new building on Robinson Street features consultation, dialysis, chemotherapy and palliative care services for cancer patients all under the one roof. Previously Wimmera oncology patients needed to travel beyond the region to access some of these.
Mr Hardman said advocacy for such a service began in July 2013, when it was decided Wimmera Base Hospital needed a new oncology unit. Spearheaded by then chair Dr Don Johns, the foundation raised $1 million in nine months.
His wife, Jo Johns, told the room he would have been proud to have seen what they had achieved.
In March 2015, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited Horsham to commit $1 million in federal funding. It followed Murtoa's Rachael Littore, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma contacted then Member for Mallee Andrew Broad urging him to fund the cancer centre.
Related: Rachael's Wish launched
Altogether $5.3 million was committed to the building.
Horsham cancer survivor Leonie Bird said the centre would make a world of difference to the lives of patients.
"It just makes sense to have related departments working together in the same space," she said.
"For a patient and their families, cancer can be very time-consuming. It demands your attention, and at times takes over your life. For me it's about balance: meeting my cancer requirements without foregoing lifestyle, coping with change, developing new plans and goals to manage the changes.
"It's about independence: having choice and some degree of control. It's about knowing where to access the information required. It's about confidence: building the relationships with the medical team who deliver my treatment, trusting that team. It's about practical support. It's about living well: access to physical and social activities. It's about connectedness: A sense of being a member of a team, not an outsider,"
Healthcare group board of management chair Maree Aitken said the project had been delivered on time and on budget.
"In the Wimmera-Southern Mallee region, five people are diagnosed with cancer every week," she said. "Across the region, 2240 people are living with cancer, and we have the highest rates of bowel cancer in Australia. We treat here eight dialysis patients currently."
The first patients began receiving their treatment at the centre in late January. Since then, centre manager and cancer nurse practitioner Carmel O'Kane said more than 1000 people had been to use its services.
"We are treating between 50 and 75 people a week," she said.
"It's amazing to think the community has built this building."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox twice weekly from the Wimmera Mail-Times. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Wimmera, sign up below.