Dr Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan

It is with great sadness that The Strathfield Breast Centre announces the passing of Dr Anne Sullivan on Friday 29th January, after a long illness.


Dr Sullivan joined The Strathfield Breast Centre in the late 90’s complementing her role as a Visiting Medical Officer to both Concord Repatriation General Hospital (CRGH) and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH).

After graduating from medicine at the University of Sydney in 1976, Anne spent her intern and resident years at RPAH.

Toward the end of the 1970s RPAH established a specialised Oncology unit, one of the first in Australia, and Anne became a trainee medical oncologist. While the treatment of cancer by chemotherapy was then in its infancy, Anne foresaw the great potential of this treatment modality.

Her post graduate training included a period of time at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey as a researcher. In 1983 her training was complete and she became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Anne became one of the first medical oncologists trained in Australia, and the first female oncologist in NSW, and probably Australia.

Anne was appointed to a consultant position at RPA, where she worked 3 days each week, initially at RPAH only. Over the course of her career, she took positions at Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and The Strathfield Breast Cancer Centre. She gradually increased her specialisation, ultimately restricting her practice to breast cancer. Throughout her career she skilfully balance her work commitments with her family life, generally committing three days each week to her patients in the clinics, but at other times available by phone to patients and work colleagues alike.

The goal of The Strathfield Breast Centre was always focused on providing one stop shopping for our patients. This meant creating a place where patients could be worked-up with imaging and pathology on site and for those with a diagnosis of breast cancer, have all their treatment co-ordinated under the one roof. Anne quickly identified the need for a a chemotherapy facility in the hospital. After protracted negotiations with the hospital and its parent, Affinity Health; the NSW Department of Health and many other local stake holders, the four bed Chemotherapy Suite at Strathfield Private Hospital opened in the later part of 2002, a tribute to Anne’s persistence and commitment to providing the best possible care and outcomes for her patients. Strathfield Private Hospital will acknowledge this major contribution by the placement of a plaque in the Chemotherapy Suite which will be a permanent memorial for Anne.

Anne shared her expertise with all her colleagues, she worked hard and consistently, and she remained a student of life. She never stopped learning; attending oncological conferences both nationally and internationally. She never sat back and became complacent. She led by example and she mentored many young doctors. The specialists nurses who worked alongside her often commented that she treated her patients as if they were part of her family; the pharmacists were constantly delighted by the way she kept them meticulously informed of each patients needs and the pathology collectors went out of their way to help with the management of her patients. Anne was a role model and an inspiration to so many. And was kind, and always approachable – if you needed advice she was always available on her mobile, and it didn’t matter if she was in the supermarket or out at dinner.

Anne was a vital contributor to our weekly multidisciplinary meetings. For each patient discussed at the meeting she gave us what, why and when. What drug or combination of drugs, the reasons for her selection and the sequencing of the drugs in relationship to other modalities of treatment. If she spotted a bewildered look among her non-medical oncology colleagues, then she would call upon her encyclopaedic knowledge of the medical literature citing book, chapter and verse of relevant journals; quoting clinical trials past, present and future and even attempting to enlighten us on the relationship between the cancer biology and the therapeutic potential of a particular chemotherapeutic agent. This was Anne’s way of sharing her expertise and along the way, ensuring that our education continued. Her interpretation of these complex and heady subjects were always tempered with a common sense approach and a quirky but dry sense of humour.

Anne was a caring and compassionate physician whose patients were her priority. She was empathetic, but a provider of sound counsel. She would give her patients as much information as they wanted, or as little as they wanted. She understood their fear of the unknown and their fear of dying.

Over the four years since Anne retired, there have been many hundreds of good wishes from her patients indicating how much they loved, respected and missed her.

It is very hard to say goodbye and we don’t want to, but we need to remember that she touched so many people’s lives, so positively. She leaves an amazing legacy behind. Anne left the world a better place than when she found it and for that we will always be grateful

This obituary was written by Anne’s husband, Bob, and Cath Kennedy who is the datamanager at The Strathfield Breast Centre.