For one week every year, Julie Byrne and her husband dress as characters from The Simpsons and drive around towns and cities of Australia to raise money and awareness for Camp Quality, living the charity’s motto that laughter is the best medicine. But behind the laughter is a very important message Julie wants the Federal Government to hear.
Ten years ago Julie, who is a stores service assistant at Serco’s Defence Clothing contract at Amberley RAAF base, faced the news that her new-born son Alex had been diagnosed with a tumour. It led to five months of living in hospital or nearby support housing while Alex underwent treatment.
Alex is now clear of cancer, but Julie has continued her relationship with Camp Quality to support families who are going through the difficulties her family faced. Camp Quality is a national charity that exists to support any child impacted by cancer – be that their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one.
Her journey has led her to Parliament House where she was invited to speak to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt (28 March) and other senior government officials to establish, through Camp Quality, a better network of support for families.
“When we were going through treatment for Alex it was like I was on auto-pilot, we were focussed on what needed to be done at the time,” Julie said. “There was great support from a range of people – doctors, nurses, friends, fellow parents - but when I went home that safety net disappeared.”
“It was like I needed to learn to be a mum, wife, cleaner, chef again and I felt that the hardest battle had just begun. I know that impacted on me and my family.”
Julie explained that she had a panic attack one day while taking her two children grocery shopping unsure how she was going to complete what used to be a relatively simple task.
While Julie and her husband continued to speak to other families impacted by cancer she knew more needed to be done and last year a meeting with Camp Quality CEO Kylea Tink led to a discussion about the need for more support.
“Camp Quality receives no Government funding, but we are asking the minister to back our plan to extend its support to families after the family member diagnosed with cancer has recovered and is back in their local community,” she said.
“I know from my experience that it is vitally important, and through my personal story can help the minister and government understand that a small investment will help thousands of families.”
In particular, Julie is hopeful a mobile phone application is developed that guides Australian families through the extensive array of support services available to them once they have returned home following an extended stay in hospital. The app will also allow families to connect with others going through a similar experience.
Image: Julie Byrne (right) with representatives of the Federal Government and Camp Quality at Parliament House.
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