Fundraising flower power!

Fundraising flower power!

When a WA mum came to appreciate the power of science, her fundraising powers blossomed.

When a terrible experience led her to appreciate the true power of science, this WA mum’s fundraising powers blossomed.

Her family had just returned from holiday when 13-month-old Zoe began waking up in the night, screaming in pain and pulling her knees up to her chest. GPs had various theories – she was teething, she had growing pains, just give her some Panadol and she’ll be fine – but mum Alison knew something more serious was going on.

“I remember having an argument with a GP, asking if he could order some blood tests,” Alison says. “He said, ‘What do you want me to look for?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re a doctor, you tell me.’ She was just not a happy little girl. She went off food. She was lethargic. She stopped crawling.”

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After six weeks of visits to various GPs and hospitals came the day Alison says she’ll never forget – 12 March 2012.

“I just said to my husband that we have to go down to Princess Margaret Hospital again in Perth, which was two hours away, to get this sorted,” she recalls. “We had to find out what’s wrong.”

They were seen by a young, female doctor who listened to their story. The first doctor to feel Zoe’s tummy, she sent the infant immediately for an ultrasound.

“Normally, when you go to PMH, you have to wait for things to happen, but suddenly everything was happening in an instant. The ultrasound was done quickly, we waited for about 10 minutes, then they asked us to come into another room for a talk. The doctors told Alison they’d found a mass in Zoe’s abdomen.”

Read more: Behind the Science, “Cage fighting" with neuroblastoma

Still unaware of the gravity of their daughter’s situation, mum and dad told the doctors they’d head home quickly, pack some clothes and other essentials, then come back for further tests.

“They said, ‘No, you can’t leave. We have to figure this out right now’,” Alison says. “That was a Monday and by Wednesday she had been diagnosed with a stage-IV aggressive neuroblastoma. The doctors said she had a 40% chance of survival. On the Friday, she started chemo.”

The long, science-fuelled road to health


Zoe endured 18 months of treatments, starting with six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove as much of the mass as possible, stem cell transplant, then a course of ‘mega therapy’, which is an intensive chemotherapy treatment that Alison says was “particularly brutal” for the toddler. Zoe endured 20 days of radiation under anaesthetic and six rounds of immunotherapy.

 “What it all taught me is that if we didn’t have science, we wouldn’t have answers,” Alison, whose daughter is now 10 years old, having spent seven years in remission, says. “Science helps us to understand and identify why things happen.”

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“Back when we were in hospital our friend, Guydon Boyle, said he wanted to do a fundraiser and asked who he should fundraise for,” she says. “We did some research and discovered The Kids’ Cancer Project was an independent, national charity supporting some fantastic research around neuroblastoma. So that’s who we chose.”

The original fundraiser was a community bike ride around the family’s hometown of York, WA. Much of the town’s population was involved, riding in pink t-shirts and singlets. Other fundraising opportunities were set up for the same day, including a community sheep shearing event, an auction and a party that evening.

Another friend promised that if the town raised more than $50,000 for The Kids’ Cancer Project, he’d ride his bike from York to Perth as an extra fundraiser. The generous townspeople beat that target and in the end, from all of the events, an amount of close to $150,000 was donated to The Kids’ Cancer Project.

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Fundraising to support lifesaving research

Once the family finally brought little Zoe home, following 18 months of treatment, and settled back into normal life, Alison decided to continue fundraising on a smaller scale. As she was driving down her driveway, admiring the proteas her mother-in-law Sally, had planted 35 years earlier, she had an idea.

“Sally had planted more than 20 protea plants that she used to sell at flower markets,” Alison says. “I asked her what she thought about us selling them and donating the funds to The Kids’ Cancer Project. She said in the past she’d done something similar, donating the funds to hospitals, etc. And so, we began cutting and selling.”

“Our first year, in 2016, we banded together with the extended family and made as many bunches as possible in the shearing shed to sell at the York Markets. With a little bit of advertising on social media, the York community came in droves as we sold out within three hours, fundraising approximately $2,500.”

Eventually, Alison began selling to cafes in York and Goomalling, at sports events, weddings and other community events. She has raised several thousand dollars every year since, for a total of more than $13,000.

“Each year I’ve just continued doing it with the kids, cutting the flowers as they’re ready. I certainly have had some very early-morning pickings to beat the heat, as well as late nights making bunches as the kids lived off toasted sandwiches, but it was all worth it,” she says. 

In 2020 alone Alison and the kids raised over $3500. 

“The proteas are becoming quite well known in the district,” she says. “And I’m glad that’s the case, because it supports science. We need science, and we need research, to find answers that save the lives of children.”

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