Queenstown District Councillor John McDonald, Chair of the South Island Cancer Consumer Group and Southern Mental Health and Addictions Network.
John MacDonald spent most of his career as a self-described serial entrepreneur. From skiing and adventure tourism, to marketing, publishing, and motor trade in Queenstown, it was a cancer diagnosis that led to a change in direction.
Following a difficult 18-month period to be correctly diagnosed, John took surviving cancer as an opportunity to deliberately redirect his life. “The stress during that 18 months of trying to reach a diagnosis was unbelievable – it did my head in. I ended up very depressed and sought help through counselling and the Cancer Society. Throughout my career, I equated making money with being successful, but my experience of cancer caused me to reassess my priorities and ask what I can do that might make a difference for my community.”
John sold his businesses and drew on his skills and new connections in the health system to take on roles that focus on integrating mental health and addictions services, local government, community development, and cancer service improvement. Despite the range of topics, John sees a common thread running through them all. “They all connect – because of each of my hats I have a better understanding of the way the systems work and different perspectives to bring to the table.”
John joined the South Island Cancer Consumer Group in late 2018 (and became chair in mid-2019) after a nudge from the local branch of the Cancer Society. “One of the staff knew I was looking to get involved and encouraged me to put my name forward. I am passionate about improving supportive care and integration of services for cancer patients – we need to take a more joined-up approach.
“Part of this is ensuring the consumer voice is heard in health services. The most powerful thing I have experienced in my roles is enabling patients and whānau to tell their stories. At my first meeting of the South Island Cancer Consumer Group, we each shared our experience of cancer. There is power is being able to share that and for health services to hear the diversity of experiences. Similarly, it was a huge privilege for me to be able to host the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry Panel, when they came to Southern. The generosity of those who gave their voice in order to improve services and outcomes in the future was immense.”
John is encouraged by the development of Te Aho o Te Kahu, Cancer Control Agency. “I hope that it will give direction and consistency to cancer services, particularly given the inequities experienced by Māori and those living in isolated areas. Covid has shown us that systems are not entrenched and we can do things differently – we need to keep this ‘can do’ attitude to make real changes for patients. Central to that will be hearing from consumers at every level of the organisation.”
The South Island Cancer Consumer Group was a long-standing partner of Southern Cancer Network and continues to provide advice on planning and implementation of the regional workplan now Southern Cancer Network has transitioned to being the Southern Regional Hub of Te Aho o Te Kahu, Cancer Control Agency. Southern Regional Hub Manager Nicholas Glubb noted the importance of the relationship with the South Island Cancer Consumer Group. “John has shown leadership by clearly articulating the crucial role of consumers as we’ve worked through the transition to Te Aho o Te Kahu. The Group is a key partner for the Hub as we work to implement the NZ Cancer Action Plan, in particular more equitable, patient and whānau-centred care.”