Make your positive mark on this country!

| June 16, 2014

Migrants always have made a huge contribution to the quality of life we enjoy as Australians. Victoria Kvisle tells the story of how she and her family became involved in a charity funding research into cancer.

This country of ours has many blessings. Like any other nation, we have had our share of successes, triumphs, and failures. But in our short history, Australia has been a remarkably successful society and much of this success is due to the great freedoms we enjoy as a people, and the sense of a “fair go” which is so very much a part of the Australian character.

Every newcomer to this country brings their own unique set of talents, their own unique experiences and perspectives, and all the rest of us will be the richer for it. Migrants always have made a huge contribution to the quality of life we enjoy as Australians.

In 1949, my parents came here as refugees, following the 2nd World War. They had been in a camp in Europe and had written letters to Great Britain, Canada and Australia… Australia was the first to reply. My mother was 17, my father was 21. Mum’s parents died in 1945 and dad was keen to leave war torn Hungary.

They arrived by boat to Sydney speaking several languages each (unfortunately English was not one of them), and they came with a desire for peace and stability. They decided that this country that had welcomed them would be the source of their new dreams and lives.

Like all new immigrants they found the food was not the same as at home, they had no friends, no family and the culture was completely foreign to them. They had never heard of cricket or rugby – soccer was their code. They had never seen a meat pie and were unfamiliar with tomato sauce. The Australian English sprinkled with colourful Aussie slang made learning even more challenging. However, they did recognize immediately the wealth of opportunities that this country offered.

Dad’s qualifications in mechanical engineering were not recognised, so he did manual labor like many other refugees at that time and along the way made wonderful friends. He then became a truck driver between Sydney and Melbourne. Mum sold bread in a little kiosk at Circular Quay whilst sewing wedding dresses in the evenings.

By the time of his death in 1997 dad had been a Director of several Australian companies. He was a Volunteer Director of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, sat on the Boards of numerous charities including the Salvation Army, The Jenny Leukemia Trust, The Leo and Jenny Leukemia and Cancer Foundation. He was a Life Governor of Sydney Hospital and volunteered on a number of committees for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, where the tender boat still bears his name, 17 years after his passing.

In 1967, my brother Peter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 16 years of age. Hodgkin’s Disease is a blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Peter’s prognosis was not good; he was given several weeks to live. Fortunately he pulled through, but the parents of another patient, Jenny Landahl, were not so fortunate and Jenny died at the age of 21 of the same disease.

That same year, 1967, Jenny’s parents formed the Jenny Leukaemia Trust and soon after my father volunteered his services. In the first year $6,000 was raised and donated to purchase a research microscope for the Kanematsu Institute at Sydney Hospital.

Dad became the Chairman of its newly established Fundraising Committee and Director of several others. In 2002 our name changed to The Cure Cancer Australia Foundation.

Cure Cancer focuses on funding research by young Australians into all forms of cancer, whether they are part of a major research institute, hospital or university research programs. Since 1967, our focus has been on curing cancer and not being aligned to any one type of cancer or organisation.

We have channeled over $22.5M in the form of grants to close to over 500 groundbreaking cancer research projects nationally. A number of researchers who received their early career seed funding from us are now amongst Australia’s most prominent cancer researchers and are making quantifiable progress in the fight against cancer, such as Professor’s Andrew Biankin, Robyn Ward and Carolyn Mountford.

In the 1980’s Carolyn was working at Royal North Shore Hospital on a new way of detecting cancer, and people sometimes referred to her as the “crazy lady”. Her early work was cutting edge research for which she had little chance of getting funding. However, she won a series of grants from the Leo and Jenny Foundation.

Far from being “crazy”, Carolyn’s work was responsible for developing magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) which can identify cancer in its early stage. The technique she developed is now highly accurate in the detection of thyroid, cervical, breast and ovarian cancers and has helped improve patient care for thousands of people. Now Director of the Centre for Clinical Spectroscopy and Visiting Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Carolyn says ” We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cure Cancer Australia because it was the seed money that literally made the difference between this science working and not working”. This is what Cure Cancer is all about!

I have been raising funds for CCAF since the early 1980’s, and have been a Director now for over 20 years and have seen the huge improvements in the cancer survival rates over these years. In 2013 we funded a record 38 research grants i.e. $3.2 million dollars!

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer today, in its early stages, you will be 98% likely to live a full and normal life. If you are diagnosed in a late stage you will still be 90% likely to live a full and active life. This is very different from even 10 years ago.

I am 57 years old. When I was a baby if I had been diagnosed with leukemia I would likely have lived for about 8 weeks. Now if a child is diagnosed with leukemia they are between 75 and 95% likely to live a full and active life.

Many believe that our children will be the last generation to die of cancer. This is all because of the same thing that has cured polio and tuberculosis: It is RESEARCH.

That is why I am firmly committed to fundraising for cancer research through an amazing organisation that I am privileged to be part of.

So find a way to give back with something you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter how big or small the impact is, as long as you are actively giving back to this great country.

Get involved with your local community, your children’s schools, volunteer for a charity, help care for the elderly. With busy lives it can be hard to find time to volunteer and it can be nerve racking. However, the benefits of doing so are enormous both to you, your family and your community.

My parents came to Australia with very little, but lived rich and meaningful lives in part because of the relationships they formed when volunteering and helping in the community.

Citizenship is much more than a ceremony. It’s a way of life – making your positive mark on this great nation. So let’s continue to make Australia an even better country!