When Sarah and Josh Weir were told in 2013 that their daughter Evie had cancer, they were overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and despair.
Evie had just turned two when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma – the most common form of cancer in infants – and she spent the next four years battling not only the cancer but also the side effects of treatment that included chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, stem cell transplants and immunotherapy.
That sense of helplessness was mixed with hopefulness when the Weir family began High Tea for a High Cause in 2016 – an annual fundraiser for The Kids’ Cancer Project, a charity that supports childhood cancer research.
Evie joined her parents and older sister, Alicia, at the first two high teas, which her mum says she “loved going to”, but tragically passed away shortly before Christmas in 2017. Now the event she looked forward to each year continues in her honour and in 2019, it raised more than $15,000.
“When you’re watching your child go through cancer, you feel so helpless,” says Sarah. “But if you can create something positive amongst all the heartache, it makes a difference.”
Evie’s early symptoms were similar to a tummy bug. “She was vomiting on and off for a couple of days and was generally unhappy but, being so young, she couldn't express what was going on,” says Sarah. “The GP thought it was viral.”
Evie’s symptoms continued that week and she was eventually sent to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. “That’s when we were told she had a tumour,” says Sarah. “It all happened fairly quickly - from when she was showing real symptoms to when we got told she had a tumour, it was only about 10 days, and then it all began from there.”
High tea for a cause
Prior to launching their first high tea in 2016, the Weir family had raised money for The Kids’ Cancer Project with a team in Sydney’s City to Surf fun run.
“I started tossing around ideas for how we could we get some money for the team without just saying, ‘sponsor us’,” says Sarah. “I thought about doing a Bunnings sausage sizzle, but there was a 6-12 month waiting list. Then I was going to do a bake sale, but after talking to my mum, we decided to turn it into an event.”
The mother-daughter team took the idea of a bake sale and kicked it up several gears and created the elegant experience that is High Tea for a High Cause. It’s an afternoon that brings together the local community of Western Sydney in support of childhood cancer research.
An adult ticket will set you back $50, and for that you will receive a glass of bubbly and a cheese platter on arrival, high tea delicacies, tea and coffee, a goodie bag and entry into the lucky door raffle.
Local businesses get involved by setting up market stalls with the win-win of engaging the community while giving back. In past years, stalls have included artisan jewellery and knitwear, homewares, hand-lettered prints and greeting cards.
“The local businesses pay entry to have a stall, but then they also provide a prize for our raffle,” says Sarah. “Once they’ve sold their goods, they can decide if they also want to give a percentage to The Kids’ Cancer Project, but it's totally up to them.”
The event also includes an auction, which gives guests an opportunity to make significant donations in exchange for exclusive items such as artworks, photography packages, signed football jerseys and more.
Sarah says she has been “blown away” by people’s generosity. “In the first year, we raised $10,000. Last year was a whopper – we raised $30,000. In 2019, we raised more than $15,000.
“Obviously, the event is so close to our hearts, but to see so many people coming on board shows that Evie’s life is still making a difference and people still want to do something in her honour. It's just beautiful,” Sarah says.
Investing in science
Sarah believes greater investment in science is vital to finding a cure for cancer and for improving the outcomes of children who undergo gruelling treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
“Seeing Evie go through what she did, we know there needs to be a change,” says Sarah. “The fact that she had so much treatment at such a young age, even if she had had survived it, we would most definitely have seen side-effects down the track.”
“A cure is the ultimate goal,” adds Sarah, “but developing better treatments so that kids have good quality of life, even after the cancer's gone, is so important. It’s not until you're in that world of childhood cancer that you can really appreciate that these kids need, and deserve, better and that’s why science is so important.”
Sarah is already beginning to plan the 2020 High Tea for a High Cause. She says she is determined to make the event even more successful than previous years.
“Evie loved going to the event and she would have loved us to keep going,” she says. “It gives us a purpose that is linked to Evie, but it is something positive.”