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"I wouldn’t want anyone else or their families to have to go through that," Dr Marsh says.
She knows how devastating a diagnosis of cancer can be, having been diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, despite being only 39 years old and with no family history of the disease.
Now in remission, Dr Marsh said the experience had given her research work "extra impetus".
Dr Marsh and Dr Richard Egan are the new co-directors of the university’s Cancer Society social and behavioural research unit, and are keen to help improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders through research.
Adopting an all-compassing approach was crucial to improving health and wellbeing, and he was "very excited" about his new role, Dr Egan said.
He is also optimistic more progress in health promotion and cancer prevention could be made, given recent commitments by political parties to reduce child poverty levels.
The research unit is based at the university’s preventive and social health department.
Dr Egan had been encouraged by big cuts in smoking rates.
In his role as Public Health Forum deputy chairman, he would be meeting Health Minister Dr David Clark later this month to discuss health promotion issues, he said.
Dr Marsh became research unit co-director at the start of the year.
Dr Egan officially starts his new job on April 1, when current co-director Prof Rob McGee retires.
Twenty-three thousand people were diagnosed with cancer in New Zealand annually, with a further 70,000 skin cancers. But 60% of cancers could be prevented and improvements in cancer prevention were needed, Dr Egan said.
The research unit has been funded by the Cancer Society for the past 27 years and is also supported by the university. Dr Egan said there was a "really positive social climate" at the unit, after a history of good leadership.