Owen Finegan’s Christmas Message 2022

Over the twelve days leading up to Christmas, we will be celebrating some of our incredible community and partners, by looking at the impact they are helping us make on childhood cancer.
Over the twelve days leading up to Christmas, we will be celebrating some of our incredible community and partners, by looking at the impact they are helping us make on childhood cancer.

As we head into Christmas, I wanted to highlight to our community how proud I am to lead this wonderful charity. Below, I’ve given you an insight into my role as the CEO of The Kids' Cancer Project and some of my highlights from the past year − and trust me there is never a boring day!

A sense of community and belonging is what we all thrive for. What I love about my role, this charity, and the community we represent, is that everyone wants to make a difference, have an impact and change the statistics of childhood cancer.

Back in 2004, long before I joined The Kids’ Cancer Project, I knew very little about childhood cancer and the devastating impact of a diagnosis on a child, their family and the wider community. That all changed when the son of my Wallaby teammate and long-time flatmate, David Giffin, was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma.

So, when the opportunity arose to spend every day making a difference for the other kids like Joseph who are thrust into life as cancer patients, I knew that was my new priority.

A normal week in my life as the CEO of The Kids’ Cancer Project sees me taking part in a variety of community and corporate events, as well as working and innovating with the amazing team at our HQ to grow our investment in bold, innovative science. Of course, I frequently catch up with the amazing scientists – it’s so inspiring to see that they have the same passion for making a difference as our charities founder, Col Reynolds, has had across the last 29 years.

Owen Finegan, CEO of The Kids’ Cancer Project, discussing the year's highlights

Over the twelve days leading up to Christmas, we will be celebrating some of our incredible community and partners, by looking at the impact they are helping us make on childhood cancer.

You can read those highlights from this year at the bottom of this article, but before I dive into that, I thought I would start with a few personal highlights that have been keeping me busy recently.

My daughter is currently enjoying her second year of university, one of my sons has just finished his HSC and the other is heading in that direction too. Having all of that going on at home and providing what sometimes feels like the family taxi service to sporting fields, pools and netball courts around Sydney can feel like a full-time job in itself at times - but one that brings me a lot of pride and for which I am extremely grateful.

The families I meet in my roles as CEO of The Kids’ Cancer Project would love to be complaining about this more normal mundane life of mine, but instead, many of them are in a fight for survival – something I still see all too often. Along with the incredible highs in my personal life, there are, of course, some crushing lows. The reality of childhood cancer and its indiscriminate nature was made brutally evident to me earlier this year when my neighbour’s six-year-old son, Alex, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

He’s been given a prognosis of fewer than 12 months. That’s simply not good enough.

It’s true that we’ve come a long way thanks to the support of people like you. Even in the eight years that I’ve been CEO of The Kids’ Cancer Project, there has been an amazing improvement in understanding what drives childhood cancer, more personalised treatments rather than a one-size-fits-all model; and the survival rate for kids with cancer has gone up by several percent. But to have someone so close to me be given a terminal diagnosis − especially when I’ve dedicated nearly a decade of my life to trying to eradicate childhood cancer deaths − is truly devastating.

Knowing I can’t do anything to help him now, despite leading one of the biggest cancer research charities in Australia is heartbreaking. But that’s why I know we must push on, together, for other kids like Alex. Stories like his continue to motivate me to make a difference in every way I can.

Scientific research is a long game, but with your support, our investment in childhood cancer research has grown over the last four financial years by 66%. In FY23 alone, we have committed over $4,000,000 to forty-five research projects at twenty-five institutions across Australia.

Our volunteer board − a small but hardworking team, our amazing community, our corporate supporters, and of course our incredible donors are what allow us to support that bold research. The passion we all share is for the three families that hear the words ‘your child has cancer’ every day. So, before I go any further, I would like to thank you for being a part of that, and for helping to give expert scientists the resources they need to fight for each and every one of those kids.

None of that cutting-edge research would be possible without people like you, and it is making a difference. There were days when kids’ cancer treatment was no more reliable than flipping a coin, but today, we can proudly say 86% of kids survive.

Within The Kids’ Cancer Project, we’ve never been more driven to achieve our goal of making that number 100%, so that all children who have cancer survive.

Recently, our staff and board members held a strategy day to look at our charity’s focus for the short to medium term. The day was spent re-defining our focus and commitment to sustainability, engagement of our community, delivering excellence and helping ensure our donors can have the greatest impact with their gifts.

Overall, the take-home message was simple: to continue maximising our investment in industry-leading research in the field of childhood cancer.

1. Captain Australia

The mighty Captain Australia lived up to his namesake with a behemoth 2,400km walk from Brisbane to Melbourne over 84 days. As if that wasn’t tough enough, he completed the trek entirely on foot whilst sleeping rough. His mammoth efforts didn’t go unnoticed though – over the nearly three-month journey he live-streamed every day on Facebook, amassing over 34,000 followers. In total, he raised over $160,000 to support childhood cancer research. Incredible.

Next year, Captain Australia’s challenge gets even more unbelievable as he takes on The Big Lap – walking the entire coast of Australia.

The mighty Captain Australia on his 2,400km walk
The Blue Bottle along with Alana de Kort's motto: Be a pineapple - stand tall, wear a crown and be sweet on the inside!

2. Bluebottle

The de Kort family, along with Col Reynolds in tow driving a bus kindly donated by Suttons, undertook the Blue Bottle Reef 2 Water Jet Ski trek which saw them travel up the Australian east coast. The epic adventure took them from Long Reef NSW to Agnes Water in Queensland and saw them endure wet weather, wind and lumpy surf conditions. Thanks to support from Ampol providing fuel, and accommodation from Ingenia Holidays and NRMA Parks and Resorts, meant the gang could cover 1,500KM over about 2 weeks and commit more money to childhood cancer research.

With events along the way, including fundraisers, golf days, meet-and-greets with other families affected by cancer, doctors and researchers, and lots more. My five days included a Guinness Book of records for the biggest human piece of fruit – a pineapple in memory of Alana deKort, joining Bob Cooper, Jake and Paul deKort on their Jet ski leg from Forster to Port Macquarie, a Rugby clinic in Forster, a fundraising lunch at the Settlers Inn and a plasma donation at the Red Cross Lifeblood Blood at Port Macquarie.

3. The Bloody Long Day

Mark Pacey once again undertook his ‘Bloody Long Day’ in recognition of the gruelling days of treatment his son, Cooper, endured as part of his Wilms tumour treatment. This year, when we thought it was hard to top his prior efforts, Mark did the Australian Ironman in 10:15 minutes, and hosted a trivia night and silent auction. But he didn’t stop there, he qualified for the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship which he then completed, doing a 3.86km swim, 180km ride and 42km run in 11 hours and 48 minutes over the Hawaiian lava landscape. In total, Mark raised $67k this year – meaning since 2019, he has raised over a quarter of a million dollars for kids’ cancer research.

Mark Pacey undergoing training
The first Women in Business Lunch

4. Women in Business Lunch

The Kids’ Cancer Project held its first ever Women in Business event in Brisbane at The Calile Hotel. With an inspiring MC, panel, and Jacqui de Kort, the mother of Alana who sadly died of cancer, who continues to share so bravely their family’s experience with childhood cancer, the day was a huge success. In total, we were able to raise over $21,000 for childhood cancer research thanks to the incredible generosity on the day.

5. Write a Book in a Day

Our 20th edition of Write a Book in a Day was the biggest year yet. A fun, creative and collaborative challenge for writers, and the gift of reading for sick children. All completed stories are shared with hospitals around Australia for families and children undergoing treatment plus the money you raise goes toward much-needed childhood cancer research. Check out our winners for 2022 and be inspired for your own Write a Book in a Day! This year we had a record of over 11,500 writers and 1,560 teams across Australia participated – not to mention the record of over $800,000 raised for childhood cancer research.

Sharing the gift of reading with sick children: The participants of the Write a Book in a Day
Pirate Day continues to be a true flagship event

6. Pirate Day

One of our flagship fundraising days enjoyed another successful year and was full of more treasure than ever! The day is specifically to fund children’s brain cancer research, which currently has one of the lowest survival rates of any childhood cancer. Extra funding is vital to tackling this devastating form of cancer, and thanks to our pirates all around Australia, nearly $175,000 was raised this year!

7. Lorraine Lea - Party for Kids with Cancer

Lorraine Lea’s Party for Kids with Cancer fund was established in honour of our company’s co-founder, Peter Ryan, who sadly died of cancer. This year, the company partnered with us to help raise vital funds and work towards a shared goal of a 100% survival rate and minimal side effects for kids with cancer.

This year, the company’s party raised nearly $95,000 to help fund the ongoing scientific research that The Kids’ Cancer Project is committed to.

The team sharing in the success of the Lorraine Lea - Party for Kids with Cancer
Oscar and fellow netballers get into the fun of Crazy Hair and Sock Day

8. Returning to Netball NSW

I attended the Netball NSW Dinner after a 3-year hiatus due to Covid restrictions. It was a wonderful celebration of the achievement of players and volunteers from Netball Associations across the state. We were also able to celebrate the incredible fundraising work of the Netball Community in 2022 – in total, they’ve raised over $180,000 through Crazy Hair and Sock Day, a donation from the Fairfield Netball Association, and support from the Tie Dye Project.

9. Dollar Matching

In November, a weekend drive to Dubbo in a couple of cars donated by Suttons saw the amazing Tie Dye Project on Tour. Australian Diamonds Netballer Amy Parmenter joined sarcoma survivor and childhood cancer advocate Molly Croft on the trip – the pair have become quite the dynamic duo. After raising over $50,000 for childhood cancer research in 2021, the Tie Dye Project decide to take the colourful chaos and the exciting fundraising goals on tour to Dubbo, NSW – the home of Molly and some of her biggest supporters. The crew took over the Billy O’Bush Retreat and tie dye and sell over 2,000 shirts, 250 sets of netball bibs and many Budgie Smugglers to reach their $100,000 target.

The Kids Cancer Project is matching every dollar raised, joining in the hopes of raising awareness and over $200,000 to continue the support of a research project that is focusing on a clinical translation of CAR T cell therapy for the treatment of sarcoma. The project is being led by Molly’s oncologist Professor Geoff McCowage & Dr Kavitha Gowrishankar out of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

A weekend drive to Dubbo provided much needed donations
The Christmas for a cure event brought together loyal corporate supporters and partners for an afternoon of fun, banter, entertainment and most importantly, to raise awareness

10. Christmas for a Cure

The Kids’ Cancer Project held its signature Christmas for a Cure event for the 6th time in early December at the Australian Turf Club at Royal Randwick. The event brought together our loyal corporate supporters and partners for an afternoon of fun, banter, entertainment and most importantly, to raise awareness and over $260,000 for life-saving childhood cancer research.

11. City of Sydney's Christmas Charity Partner

We’re proud to say that The City of Sydney has thrown its support behind the Kids’ Cancer Project. This year, we are The City of Sydney’s official charity partner for the Christmas celebrations in early December. For families affected by cancer, Christmas can be a difficult time of the year and the support of The City of Sydney will raise awareness and encourage more people to support through donations. 

We were proud to be The City of Sydney’s official charity partner for the Christmas celebrations
Perpetual's IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program continues to our amazing efforts

12. More Pioneering Research

It’s hard to choose one research project to highlight, nor could I talk about all of them. However, a particular highlight in recent weeks was our Kids’ Cancer Project team once again submitting three amazing programs to Perpetual's IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program (IPAP). Last year we were successful with over $200,000 in grants to support one brain cancer and one sarcoma research project to improve therapy, minimise side effects and improve overall outcomes for children with cancer.