Professor Sanchia Aranda left school in New Zealand aged 16 to work in a bank. When she realised she didn’t enjoy the job, her headmaster suggested she try nursing. Almost 40 years later, her career has spanned clinical practice, government, research and now the charity sector.
Soon after she became a Registered Nurse in 1979, she moved to Australia and worked for a decade specialising in cancer and palliative care. While she enjoyed nursing, she saw people coming into the health system with tobacco-related illness, particularly lung and head and neck cancer, and realised the importance of public health responses.
“I’ve always been motivated by making a difference for people affected by cancer,” she says. “And knowing that those things are preventable, and that the vast majority of people who smoke are also poor and less educated, made me realise we live in a pretty unequal society.”
She took a Bachelor of Applied Science, a Master of Nursing and a Doctor of Philosophy and conducted several randomised controlled trials of novel nursing and supportive cancer care interventions.
“I was trying to improve outcomes for individual patients by managing their symptoms, to look after themselves more effectively and help them navigate the health system,” she says. “But I got a little frustrated because while the research was making a difference to individuals, it wasn’t addressing systemic issues.”
In 2013 she was named the 4th Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Distinguished Fellow for her contributions to Cancer Nursing.
Professor Aranda also worked in government for almost five years as director of cancer services and information for the NSW government’s Cancer Institute.
“I got a much better picture of how people’s lives influence their individual cancer outcomes, but also at the systemic level. But I didn’t like not being able to speak out because I was in government.”
At the same time, she’s had a global focus, spending 16 years on the board of the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care, including four years as president. She is immediate past president of the Union for International Cancer Control.
Now, as CEO of Cancer Council Australia since 2015, Professor Aranda is enthusiastic about their collaboration with the Prevention Centre.
“It’s an opportunity for us to be more formally engaged with the academic centres around Australia and have the ability to influence and engage with the decision makers and state and commonwealth governments around policy implementation,” she says.
Professor Aranda spends her free time with her children and grandchildren, and loves going to the theatre, cooking and walking.