CIKA celebrating 40 years

Article from 2019/2020 Auxiliaries Annual Report

Established in 1980 by a group of dedicated parents, the Cancer in Kids at RCH Auxiliary (CIKA) truly embodies the theme “courage to care”. With members spanning families, friendship groups, generations and postcodes, their commitment and courage to support children with cancer is changing the lives of RCH patients every day.

As a mother of four children who lived close to the RCH, Ellen Webb knew she was destined to spend time at the hospital. However, nothing prepared her for the day her two year old son Brian was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer.

“Brian had excellent care, and I’ll always remember moments of laughter during his treatment, as we got involved with music therapy, and jumping on his bed whilst watching the Wiggles,” said Ellen.

Despite his excellent care, and the family’s efforts to remain upbeat, Brian sadly passed away a mere eight months following his diagnosis.

“It was obviously a devastating time for me and my family and I was searching for a way to keep going. I went to some grief support groups but I really wanted to do something that felt more constructive,” said Ellen.

It was during a bereavement support group that Ellen heard about CIKA and decided to go along to a meeting. “I went to a meeting, and I found something I hadn’t expected- a new family. They took me in and accepted me as I was then, and gave me the support I needed. They understood when I couldn’t find words, and together, we got on with raising money for cancer research.”

CIKA raises money to fund research into solid tumours, the most common form of childhood cancer. Solid tumours include Wilms’ tumour, neuroblastoma, osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and brain tumours. The ultimate aim of CIKA is to stop children from ever contracting these types of cancer, but if they do, hey want to ensure that the treatment they receive is successful.

The Auxiliary was founded by three families who were united by grief, mourning the loss of their children who had passed away from cancer. John and Lois Tasker had lost their 10 year old daughter Katie, who passed away from Hodgkin’s disease; together with Stan and Trudie Gorrs whose little girl Wendy passed away at three years old from rhabdomyosarcoma; and Karyn and Nigel Hayes, who had just lost their three year old son, Scott, who passed away from neuroblastoma.

From these tragedies and the hard work and dedication from these parents, CIKA was formed. In its 40 years, CIKA has grown to include many more families and friends of children who have been diagnosed with a solid tumour. Starting small by raising $2,000 in 1980, the following year saw that amount increase almost tenfold with over $19,000 raised from the efforts of CIKA’s growing band of volunteers. The new millennium saw CIKA’s fundraising reach six figures at $130,000, almost double the amount raised in 1999. CIKA has continued to raise over $100,000 every year since and by the end of last year the combined total had passed the $4 million mark.

“In our 40th year we planned to acknowledge this milestone with a number of key events and new fundraising initiatives. COVID-19 has interfered with these plans but we are determined they will eventually come to fruition as children are still being diagnosed with solid tumours and more research is needed,” said Ellen.

CIKA’s fundraising efforts are diverse; the Auxiliary has hosted gala balls, dog shows, film nights, luncheons, pie throwing competitions, market stalls, art and craft shows, to name a few.

“Over the years we’ve done lots of different things. One memorable fundraising event was the ‘Coach Drive’ where long-time CIKA supporters Andrew and Christine Duyvestyn, their family and helpers organised and drove an old-style coach behind Clydesdale horses 300kms from Port Fairy to the hospital, which raised over $73,000,” said Ellen.

The Old Time Wood Days is another mainstay event that has been running for a long time – it’s celebrating 25 years this year. There’s wood displays, auctions, raffles, post and rail fencing demonstrations – it’s a very unique event.”

“We’re also incredibly grateful to our patron Peter Mitchell, who keeps the spirit of CIKA alive, and has played a pivotal role in supporting us. Peter has been our patron since 2000, and continues to inspire community members to support our fundraising efforts,” said Ellen.

Many families and friends involved with CIKA are longstanding members. Ellen, who is Vice-President of the CIKA committee, with help from her husband and three children, has been raising money for cancer research for over 22 years. There are 20 CIKA committee members and a further 100 people right across the state who help with the numerous fundraising events.

“It’s a testament to our President, Sandra Lehrer, that everyone who is on the committee has a role. Everyone can talk proudly about what they can do and how they can contribute. Sandra is always asking how we can do each event better and makes sure people want to be involved and keep coming back,” said Ellen.

There’s a lot of friendly rivalry too. We are always trying to outdo each other and have friendly competition about who can raise the most money.”

For Ellen, CIKA has not only provided an outlet for her to honour Brian’s memory, it has provided her and her family with ongoing support and friendship.

“With CIKA we can really relate to each other and support each other through the difficult times. Over the years I have met the most incredible people, and had my faith restored countless times. Being part of CIKA lets me do things for Brian; to achieve things I hope he would be proud of me for, and has given me many wonderful friends.”