Doreen Akkerman AM

When someone says 'you have cancer' your life changes forever. It's important that people know they're not walking alone.

Change Agent

During her time as a director at Cancer Council Victoria, Doreen Akkerman has developed and implemented the Cancer Information Support Service, a Victoria-wide and internationally acclaimed service supporting cancer sufferers and their carers. The program's national Cancer Helpline, which just celebrated 20 years, operates Cancer Connect, a peer support service that boasts 150 trained volunteers. Cancer support groups regularly meet face to face, on the web for young adults and by phone for advanced cancer sufferers.

Doreen also played a key role in establishing the consumer advocacy group, Cancer Voices Victoria. As the founding president of the International Cancer Information Services Group of the International Union Against Cancer, Doreen has steered the worldwide development of international guidelines and standards for cancer information services.

Her development of care for carers also sets her apart. "The patient gets information, but the carer, whose life is just as impacted, doesn't - so I set up programs, both here and in Singapore and Canada to ensure carers receive information and support to help relieve their burden too," she says.

Doreen is adamant that advancing women's lives advances the whole community. "If you want a country to succeed, you educate and give advantages to women because then the family and the children, no matter what their gender, will succeed," she says.

Doreen will soon retire and her succession plan for her deputy will ensure a seamless transition. "Men do that very easily, you know, the old boys' network - they all help each other and we women have still got to learn that," she says.

Naming her mother as an important role model, Doreen also emphasises the importance of parenting: "If you have parents who absolutely love you and think you're the best thing since sliced bread, you can achieve your dreams".