CAC Member Profile: Mary Potter

8 March 2016
Mary Potter

Ill health saw Mary Potter walk away from the workforce before she was ready. A scientist by training, she retired after being diagnosed with uterine cancer – but she wasn’t quite ready to close the door on a decades-long career. 

“I retired, but it was before I wanted to. I was 67 but I wasn’t ready. Due to illness, I was having a lot of time off,” she said. 

In the last few years of career, Mary worked for a general practice organisation where she was responsible for sourcing consumers for a range of different working groups. Her knowledge of the value of consumer input, coupled with her personal experience of being a cancer patient, got her thinking about how her expertise might be applied in a different way.

“After I retired I took a year to think about what to do next once my health got better. And I thought ‘I know! I’ll go to the other side of the desk and start getting involved as a consumer,’” she said.

After completing consumer training with Cancer Council NSW, Mary joined both the Council’s consumer committee and the TCRN Consumer Advisory Committee ("CAC") in 2012. 

As a CAC Member, she has worked closely with researchers and PhD students involved in a range of translational cancer research projects, providing a consumer perspective on research presentations and funding applications. She has also attended student workshops to discuss the value of consumer input into translational research.

“I have provided consumer stories – both my own and a friend’s – to several different PhD student workshops about the role of consumers in research and the need to hear their voices,” she said.

Mary is currently partnered with a research group led by Dr Natalie Taylor, working on the 2015 Cancer Challenge of the Year project. The project, now in its final stages, uses evidence-based behaviour change strategies to remove institutional barriers that impede the effective diagnosis of Lynch syndrome.

“I could see that the change management aspect of the project was really applicable to a wide variety of cancer situations, and I really liked that,” Mary said. 

For the research team, Mary’s input has provided a unique perspective into the project that highlights the patient experience of cancer. In addition, her background as a health professional and her personal cancer experience have enabled her to build strong networks across the health sector that have benefitted the project enormously.

“Mary has been instrumental in introducing myself and the team to relevant consumer-based networks. The links she facilitated between our team and Lynch Syndrome Australia have led to a range of collaborations relating to Lynch syndrome and have also opened up opportunities for future research and awareness raising,” said Dr Taylor, the project’s chief investigator. 

“Mary’s interest, expert input, engagement with and enthusiasm about the research project has been not only helpful but also very encouraging,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr Deborah Debono.

“She has also been wonderful in networking our research team with key stakeholders and has helped us to consider different perspectives and questions.”

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