Girl author eyes $30,000 for cancer quest

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 13/02/2013

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A schoolgirl who became an author at the age of 12 to raise money for life-saving cancer research is to receive a boost from her Manawatu supporters.

Sales of Wellington High School year 10 pupil Hana Olds' biography about leading cancer researcher and plastic surgeon Professor Swee Tan have raised thousands of dollars for his work since she penned the book a year ago.

She was in Palmerston North yesterday to promote the book.

Professor Tan is based at the Hutt Valley District Health Board, where he leads the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute for Reconstructive Plastic Surgery, dedicated to researching the cause of birthmarks and cancer.

His research team made a major international breakthrough when they discovered the origin of strawberry birthmarks in embryonic stem cells, allowing them to treat children's vascular tumours with less harsh treatments than radiotherapy - using medication used to treat high blood pressure.

Hana had watched a documentary about Prof Tan's work and was inspired to help him.

She knocked on his door asking whether she could write a book about him, and he instantly turned her down - reasoning that he was too young to be immortalised in print. But the surgeon acquiesced after she asked again in front of her primary school class.

"She had in the past shared my view I was too young but [Hana] had pulled the carpet right out from under my feet, and my wife said ‘oh, for goodness' sake - just say yes!'," Prof Tan said.

"She is a remarkable young woman."

The biography traces his life from his upbringing in a small Malaysian village, working on a plantation, to following his dream to become a doctor - but the professor, currently tipped for a New Zealander of the Year honour, is modest about the attention.

"Some people were quite interested in the story she wrote about me but really what has happened is a story about Hana and her success, and I somehow got caught up in the story as the main character of the book."

Hana said she had been inspired by the surgeon's dedication to finding cures for cancer.

"He is just amazing and I really wanted to help him and help make a difference, so I started thinking about how I could help.

"I really believe he can find a cure for cancer."

Prof Tan is an advocate of pushing boundaries in his work.

"If we pursue what we had been doing we will never get that paradigm shift.

"Sometimes we need to do something a bit heretical rather than do something over and over again and I think that Hana, she has that sort of philosophy too."

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Hana's book, If Persistence was a Person: The story of Professor Swee Tan, is now in its third print run and has raised $10,000 for the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, having already sold 2000 copies. If all the copies of the latest reprint sell, Hana will achieve her $30,000 goal.

Prof Tan visited the Manawatu region last year as a Rotary guest speaker. The Feilding and Makino branches produce a calendar to raise money for his research, which led him to introduce them to Hana, whose fundraising venture the members support by promotion.

- Manawatu Standard

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