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05/07/2017 - A Tribute to Dr Melanie Price by Professor Phyllis Butow

It is my great honour and privilege to honour Dr Melanie Price, as she leaves her leadership role as Executive Director of PoCoG, to start a new adventure in life.
Melanie and I met when she was a bright young PhD student, and I a young academic and supervisor, some 22 years ago. Melanie was working on an exciting project for her PhD, exploring the role of stress and coping in predicting breast cancer diagnosis in women who had been recalled after a suspicious breast scan. Between the recall and definitive diagnosis, women completed a stressful life event interview and psychosocial questionnaires. Melanie found that women experiencing a stressor objectively rated as highly threatening and who were without intimate emotional social support had a ninefold increase in risk of developing breast carcinoma. (Price MA et al, Cancer 2001) She went on to publish 5 important papers from this work.  
The relationship forged between us during her PhD has persevered and we have continued to work together in a unique partnership that I, for one, am forever grateful for and will miss enormously! Together with other colleagues, we formed the Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED), at the University of Sydney, and built a large program of work in psycho-oncology at a time when little was being done in this field. 
We furthered Melanie’s PhD work in a 17-year collaboration with the Kathleen Cunningham Foundation Consortium for research into Familial Breast cancer (kConFab), funded by 3 NHMRC grants. In this study, we followed 2000 women at high risk of breast cancer for 12 years, to explore in one of the first truly prospective studies using gold-standard measures, the relationship between stress, coping, social support and breast cancer diagnosis. Only recently we co-authored the main results of this study (presented at IPOS, COSA and other conferences, and currently under review for publication).
With kConFab, we worked on a wide range of studies exploring psychosocial and behavioural issues in women at high risk of breast cancer, both those with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and those without (e.g. 
Price MA et al, Breast Cancer Res & Treat 2010). Melanie sat on the kConFab executive committee for many years, bringing her expertise, wisdom and support to that important Australian registry.

Melanie and I also worked on a second large epidemiological study, following for 3 years, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and their partners, who were participating in the Australian Ovarian Study. This longitudinal study produced important data on the course and predictors of well-being (physical and psychological) in this population. Melanie led many of the papers emerging from this work (e.g. 
Price MA, et al MJA, 2010).

Melanie and I tried for a number of years to obtain infrastructure support to place our psycho-oncology work on a more solid footing. This finally culminated in the establishment of the Psycho-oncology Co-operative Research Group, an Australian clinical trials group with a national mission and focus. Nine years ago, Melanie became the Executive Director of PoCoG and in that role, has made an enormous contribution to psycho-oncology.

PoCoG was the first such trials group in the world, and has inspired a number of other similar organisations. Under Melanie’s quiet, wise and committed leadership, PoCoG has grown to have over 1600 members. It has a truly national identity, bringing together leading psycho-oncology researchers, mentoring younger researchers and building large, ambitious programs of research that will make a difference to cancer outcomes. Melanie always saw the purpose and potential of PoCoG, and in many ways sacrificed her own research career to create something larger than all of us.  
Most recently, the ADAPT program of work, implementing PoCoG’s anxiety and depression clinical pathway in 12 NSW sites, owes much to Melanie’s leadership. She overcame early setbacks in funding, persevered with gaining required pilot data, co-developed a prototype of the portal that would be required to implement the pathway, co-wrote the CINSW translational program grant that is funding this work, and is contributing to the intellectual component of the research.
She has also been the driver of the most recent PoCoG program of work around managing caseness in psycho-oncology in accessible, affordable and practical ways within the community and has rallied Australian psycho-oncology health professionals and researchers to make this happen.
Melanie has created a legacy that will be not be forgotten. With over 60 publications and many grants, she has a distinguished research career. Her contribution to psycho-oncology through her leadership of PoCoG has been unique and truly significant.  All of us will miss her enormously. Whatever Melanie decides to do next, we know it will be outstanding. Three cheers for Melanie!

Professor Phyllis Butow

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