#8 Volunteer – Weekend to end all women’s cancers – October 24-25

One thing that I found frustrating when I moved to Australia was that my working visa restricted my ability to participate in volunteering.

Whilst I am sure that it was not the intention of the conditions when they were set up for workers under an employer sponsored 457 long-stay business visa you are only authorised to do work that is organised by your primary employer.

Work doesn’t have to be paid to fall into this category and therefore, whilst a technicality you can invalidate the terms of your visa, which isn’t worth the risk.

Since I made Australia my permanent home this is no longer an issue – yay!

When I was younger I was involved in volunteering activities and always enjoyed it. I had been looking for something else to get involved with for a while and therefore, this is one of the items on my list that I chose for myself.

In 2012 I lost my mother to cancer, cancer of an unknown primary that then metastasised into various other tumours. Unfortunately there is not a lot of publicity about this type of cancer and also few charities associated with it. However, as cancer touches so many people – an estimated 1 out of 3 of us directly, not including all those families and friends also affected, I like to support cancer research charities. I think that with all the environmental factors associated with modern life and living longer we will all be affected by this. In fact I live with the expectation that one day I will likely be personally affected, due to other health issues that put me at elevated risk.

The Weekend to End All Women’s Cancers supports the QIMR Berghofer Institute in several of its women’s cancers programs. The weekend saw approximately 500 individuals walk 60km around Brisbane over 2 days.

I signed up to work as crew for the weekend, as after walking the Kokoda 30km trail back in May I knew I wouldn’t manage the walk this year myself.

I was assigned to the “Gear” team, along with a fetching sparkly blue lanyard. It was nice that the survivors were given sparkly pink lanyards so that they stood out.

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Essentially I spent the weekend helping organise people’s camping gear and setting up on Day 1, we then welcomed the walkers in as they arrived and helped them find their bags/tents etc. That night they had a dinner for all the crew and walkers, although due to my long work week and the 3:50 start I headed to bed early so I was ready for the next day.

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Day 2 was pretty hectic, in 3 hours a team of between 5-10 of us packed down over 500 chairs and set up the final ceremony area, organised almost 200 peoples bags, packed down 250 tents and then stripped and packed down about 100 trestle tables.

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Lots of snacking was involved to keep us going! We were all pretty gross and sweaty after that though, so changed into the final crew shirts and enjoyed a tasty packed lunch.

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Those of us left then donned clackers and pom-poms and headed to the entry to the “runway” to the finish line to cheer everyone one for the last 100m.

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We ended up cheering for over 3 hours! It was great welcoming everyone in and seeing the happiness and relief at having finished and the pride at their accomplishments. It was really lovely to see those who hung back with us and cheered others on as they waited for slower team mates, so that they could walk the finish line together.

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Lots of walker had to be picked up by the “sweepers” due to injury, they get dropped at the 100m mark so that they can still cross the finish line themselves, albeit slowly. Those too injured to walk got taken across the finish line in golf buggies. One injured lady said that she felt like she didn’t deserve to cross the finish line – but we got her there. I don’t think it matters at all whether they walked it all or not, every entrant walked as far as they could and I doing their best was as deserving as everyone else.

Every walker raised a minimum of $2000, with the event raising $1.2M in total, a great effort and testament to all involved. Unfortunately the event will not be running, but 2017 is the 70th anniversary of the institute and they will be running a special series of celebratory events, so I’m sure there will be a lot to get involved with.

I met lots of amazing people, both women and men who participated and worked as crew. From the couple who are both survivors that have ridden several of the 100km cycle rides and crewed the walks, to the 70-year-old lady that walked and camped!! And crossed the finish line looking fresh as a daisy, so many people blew me away.

It was a really great forum for people who had survived or had cancer and those that had been affected by it to have open conversations with others. When you lose someone important to you they don’t cease to be part of your life and yet, understandably, others don’t want to talk about death or those who have died. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t want to talk about them and you need to. You also need to talk about your experiences, the good, the bad and the gruesome. Having that environment to be able to freely talk about a topic that is awkward and “morbid” in general social situations is really valuable and I think part of why these kinds of events are so successful.

The event finished with a ceremony with all the walkers, their families and crew and it was a nice way to wrap it up before heading home to crash out. Mark said that night that he had never seen me so tired; I still tried to get him to build a shed though!

Was it worth it, definitely, would I do it again, most definitely.

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