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The Illawarra Cancer Carers History

By 2022-06-01June 3rd, 2021General

The following article celebrating 30 years of caring was skillfully written by Eleanor Symons in September 2020 who was the 27th volunteer to join the Illawarra Cancer Carers on the 9th of February 1991. Eleanor was our second President and undertook a lot of work formalising our organisation and she is one of our longest (and still) serving members.

Many thanks to Eleanor for her words.

Our 30th Luncheon was a great success with over 80 Cancer Carers and friends attending and what a wonderful celebration this was - over 30 years of assisting cancer patients in the Illawarra. Come with me on a walk through of memories of those years….

The community was involved in two major fundraising campaigns - one in 1986 and another in 1990, to raise a total of $3m for a cancer centre at Wollongong Hospital. In 1990, Dawn Reed formed a group of volunteers to raise money and help patients being treated in the new Cancer Care Centre - The Illawarra Cancer Carers. From the initial 12 charter members in November 1990, the group has now grown to over 200 members. Jennie Dransfield, Oncology Nursing Unit Manager, (resigned in March 1996), but it is due to her amazing energy in the initial stages, the constant support of Prof. Philip Clingan from the beginning and the close relationship that developed between the late Gloria Swift, Oncology Nursing Sister and the Carers that we celebrate our 30th Birthday.

The Cancer Care Centre was finally opened in March 1991 and several people responded to an advertisement in the Illawarra Mercury calling for volunteers to work there. In 1992, a roster was developed for five Carers to work in pairs in the Oncology ward for three mornings per week. If available, 2 Carers now work there five mornings a week and we provide support, massages and beanies, turbans, bed socks, toiletry products for patients as required. (Due to COVID this service has temporarily been suspended). In the past patients had been taken by bus to Sydney for their treatment. This was incredibly stressful and tiring. Once the Centre opened, our volunteers started driving patients without transport to the Centre and home again for a nominal fee. In September 1992 to 2011, we started collecting corks as a fundraiser. This raised $74,212 until Australian wine makers began importing their corks directly from Portugal. To keep up the supply of items for sale, a sewing group was formed in 1996 called The Crafty Carers and it still meets every Friday in the pavilion at Dapto Showground and we are very thankful for their support. Our craft stalls are a great source of income with the first stall being held in March 1992, raising $80. Our Christmas stalls last year raised over $7,000. Stalls are held regularly in the hospital and wider community and we have wonderful support from groups in Oak Flats and Bellambi who donate goods they have made for us to sell on our stalls. (Please note hospital stalls are suspended due to COVID).

In 1990 it was decided to organise a gourmet picnic firstly to promote our cause and secondly to raise funds. It was known as Picnic at the Manor and was held at Glennifer Brae. It was later moved to the City Beach Function Centre and renamed Banquet at the Beach. This huge undertaking raised over $100,000 in 2019 and for all those involved, we are truly grateful. (Please note no Banquet was held in 2020 due to COVID but we are back in 2021).

We became incorporated in August 1994 and in March 1995, we gained our own much needed office/storage space on Level 3 in the Cancer Care Centre. A library was established in 1995 named after our first Treasurer. It was later taken over by the Cancer Council. Alkira Lodge, a joint venture by both AV Jennings and the local Rotary Clubs was build in 1994 to provide accommodation for patients receiving treatment at the Centre. The Carers spend $10,000 on innumerable items to furnish the Lodge and spent many hours working there also. It has also been taken over by The Cancer Council.

In 1995, we made our first comfort cushion for breast cancer patients and have since offered one, for free, to every breast cancer patient treated at Wollongong, Wollongong Private and the former Figtree Hospitals. We have made too many to count.

In 1997, the Carers gave a dollar for dollar donation towards the purchase of a Dragon Boat as remedial exercise for the breast cancer patients. A 14 seater bus was purchased in 1999 for the Breast Cancer Support Group so they could take their outreach programs to the country patients. It was replaced by a 21 seater bus in 2005. And in 2021, we are eagerly awaiting our newest bus, kindly donated by The Illawarra Convoy.

Our logo (the holding hands) was registered in 2008 as our Trademark .

For several years, many of our members helped with the late Gloria Swift’s weeklong annual retreat for cancer survivors at Stanwell Tops. These Carers stayed the night, getting up at 5am to prepare breakfast for 80 plus people. Three meals were prepared each day for the week. Other Carers came to give extra assistance during the day. When the Breast Cancer Support Group eventually folded, the Lymphodema Group became part of the Cancer Carers. We now have paid for the training of 10 massage therapists to Australian standards and therapy is held free for survivors of cancer at The Ribbonwood Centre, Dapto.

Over the years, the Carers have given financial and other support to various cancer patient support groups including:

* A beach buggy with bigger tyres for use on sand and water was purchased for Camp Quality to enable children with cancer to enjoy the beach.

* When the Shoalhaven Cancer Centre was established at Milton, we donated a bed and a chair.

* Our members made curtains and bedspreads for the Port Kembla Palliative Care ward and financed an outdoor garden. The ward continues to receive nighties, heat packs and rugs from us.

*We regularly donate knitted rugs to many of the aged care homes throughout the Illawarra.

We also regularly donate to Wollongong University to assist with research into cancer and it’s treatment. IN 2007, the Cancer Carers received the Wollongong University Chancellors Award for Community Service. In 2011, we started wearing our blue polo shirts complete with our holding hands logo and all provided by our generous donors. They make us instantly recognizable and are worn with pride.

With so many cancer patients having to travel to Sydney or Liverpool for a PET scan, it was decided to campaign for such a scanner in Wollongong and we collected over 30,000 signatures in support. It was successful and Wollongong Hospital now have a PET scanner of their own.

Mobility scooters, electric and manual wheelchairs, stair lifts and other numerous other aids, which have been donated to us, are now available to hire from the Cancer Carers. These are available to anyone who needs one whether you are a cancer patient/survivor to make life easier. We have a large storage area and our volunteers look after all of them.

We raise funds from BBQ’s at Bunnings to stalls in our local shopping malls and gift wrapping.

Yet another group has joined the Carers in 2019 - Glitz and Glamour. It comprises of some former breast cancer survivors and of course all the money they raise goes to Breast Cancer Illawarra. There is a Glitz and Glamour Ball to be held in March 2022.

The Illawarra Cancer Carers are forever grateful for the support given by businesses, clubs and individuals in the Illawarra as well as from further afield, for without them we could not help cancer patients to the extent that we do and they would not have to up to date equipment to assist in their treatment. Our donations to date to further research and assist present and past patients total more than $4.4 million. We are immensely proud that all our money raised stays right here in the Illawarra and none of our volunteers are paid except for out of pocket expenses.