Resident of Yarraville, Yarraville Rotarian
My family has always lived in the inner west. My Dad Dowell was from Braybrook and Mum Barbara was from Spotswood. I grew up in a milk bar on Nelson Place, and have fond early memories there. I learnt how to walk by working my way along the glass cabinets of the lolly display, shuffling myself by opening the glass and eating lollies. You may say I was inspired by sugar!
We moved around Williamstown a bit when we were younger. My sister Jackie was born two years after me, and my brother Boyd was born two years after Jackie. By this time, we had relocated to Victoria Street in Williamstown. I remember running to the beach as a kid, burning my feet on the hot cement in the summer, and rollerblading in the streets throughout my childhood.
Mum and Dad have always been very social people so they often have BBQs with family and friends. Dad was involved with the Rotary Club of Williamstown when we were young kids, so we grew up involved in the community along with all the other kids of Rotarians. He was really community-minded, and I respected how much joy he got out of it.
One day, Dad got a routine blood test done as part of the procedure he had for an upcoming knee replacement. Doctors picked up that he had really low white blood cell count, and almost immediately Dad started chemotherapy. Jackie and I were working in London at the time and got the dreaded call that no one wants to hear when you are thousands of kilometres away. The call came in from Mum one Monday morning while we were on the way to work.
‘Girls, Dad has leukaemia. Just get home when you can.’
Jackie and I broke our lease and moved back to Melbourne as soon as we could. This was in August 2007. After a few intense months, dad was in the clear and they decided to move to Bendigo and sold our Victoria Street home. My siblings and I remained in Melbourne.
Year on year, we began celebrating Dad’s health. Four years became five, and five turned into six. In 2014, just as we were about to celebrate the seventh year, Dad’s routine tests came back with more bad news. By this stage, we thought we were as prepared as ever and were confident we could get through it.
Dad had a bone marrow transplant along with several rounds of intense chemo. Mum was busy trying to sell their business in Bendigo, as Dad was getting treatment at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. It was a challenge with the back and forth for Mum and of course Dad.
My sister and I would head into the hospital every night after work and complete the Herald Sun quiz with Dad. Sometimes we may play a game of Monopoly cards.
Just when we thought things were getting better, Dad had a brain infection caused by toxoplasmosis. Due to his low white cell count, infections popped up all the time. It took weeks for the doctors to work out what it was, but by then, there was permanent damage to the nerve that connected the ear to the brain. As a result, Dad lost his hearing in his left ear.
Dad kept on going, never complaining about a thing. Even after several stints in the ICU, you would never hear him complain.
In 2016, my little sister Jackie got married and Dad walked her down the aisle. This was the proudest day of his life. Dad even had a few beers with his mates to celebrate the occasion.
In late 2017, we were hoping things were getting better, but doctors informed us there was nothing more they could do and he was moved into palliative care in Bendigo.
A few days later we got a call from the staff saying he was doing too well, and he could go home for a bit. Just as we were about to bring him home, we were told he had blood in his stomach and that we should all get there as quick as we could. I was in Adelaide at the time and rushed to get on the next flight out. Dad passed away two days later with all of us by his side, including his little mate, Magnas the pug.
Funnily enough, when I finished high school, I was actually voted ‘Female most likely to end up on the dole.’ I think in Year 12, I didn’t really take things too seriously. I wasn’t focused on getting good grades, and probably went down to the pub at lunchtime! Pretty quickly after finishing high school, I got a role as an office assistant in the CBD at a property company, where I remained for seven years.
I worked my way up over the years and ended up travelling the world and managing a multimillion-dollar business as a 24-year-old.
More recently in August 2017, I was successful in obtaining a job at Amazon after a six-month loop of interviews!
I’ve been involved with the Rotary Club of Yarraville since 2012. I was President in 2015 and received a Paul Harris Fellow Award in 2017. I was so proud that day, and made the call to Dad when I won the award. Dad received one when he was in the Rotary as well, as a sign of commitment and dedication to the community.
Every month Jackie, my brother-in-law Steve, and I would pick one of the chef-hatted restaurants from The Age Good Food Guide and have dinner there. We try to tick off as many as we can and by prebooking in advance, we would always have something to look forward to. We were going to start a blog but we never got around to doing it. We are avid campers and organize a lot of trips throughout the year with family and friends. This includes bringing a pizza oven and organizing a gourmet menu.
I have a British Blue cat, who goes by the regal name of Lord Barrington, or Barry for short. Magnas the pug used to be mine too, but I have since given to Mum to keep her company while Dad was going through his treatment. On the day Dad died, Magnas was crying out a sound that I had never heard before and was jumping up on his bed, licking his hand.
In 2014, when Dad’s sickness came back, I began thinking about shaving my head for the World’s Greatest Shave and raise money for the Leukemia Foundation but kept putting it off. When Dad passed away in August, I thought about it again leading up to Christmas and signed up for the pack. The pack arrived, but I was still hesitant to commit.
2017 turned into 2018, and I finally made the decision to commit. I made a post on Instagram on 2 January and knew the moment I posted it, I couldn’t back out! I set a target of $20,000, as I didn’t just want to shave my head for $500. With ten days to go, I am currently at $18,649 and I’m certain I will achieve my goal.
Over the last two years, I have also been actively raising funds for the Cancer Council. ‘Girls Night In’ is an annual event that I organise, where a group of women contribute whatever we may spend on going out, and have a day in with food and drinks and raffle items. In the first year, I raised $2,000 with about 20 friends.
Our second event last year in November 2017 was super emotional. Along with Dad’s passing, two of our best friends’ Mums had also passed away within a three month period, due to cancer. We managed to raise about $2,500 last year.
In 2018, our target is $5,000. I will continue to do ‘Girls Night In’ every year, and have an aspiration to make it a really big event in Yarraville with 100 plus people!
On 21 March, I will be shaving my head at the Yarraville Club for the World’s Greatest Shave. The event will kick off at 6.30pm and the shave at around 7pm.
We’ll have a raffle on the night as well. People can come down to support a great cause, order some drinks and food and make it a big social gathering.
You are invited to shave your head for $50, or just come down and enter the raffle and win some really great prizes and support a great cause!