WATCHING her little sister Rebecca Mallon slowly die of cancer 20 years ago, day by day, was a devastating experience for Brooke Southern and her family.
Yet that loss would also become the defining moment in her own life.
It is as relentless as it is cruel.
And for Brooke it has been all those things but it has also instilled in her a deep desire to help others in a similar position.
Brooke is the driving force behind the establishment of Camp Cohuna – a camp run under the umbrella of the cancer foundation Challenge, which supports kids with cancer.
The two night camp is already heading into its fourth year and in that short time it has been very much embraced by the community that Brooke is proud to call her home.
“Initially the camp was just a way to say thank you to Challenge for everything that it had done for Bec and my family all those years ago, but it has grown in to so much more’’ Brooke said.
‘‘Cohuna has embraced the camp and everything it represents and it has very much become a community thing with countless organisations and people pitching in to help,” she said.
When a sibling is diagnosed with cancer, family life is turned upside down.
There is sadness, uncertainty, anger, hospital visits, travel, a lot of travel, and stays in the city.
And pain. Pain for everyone in the family. For friends.
Brooke said the path through all this was made much easier to navigate for her and her family because of Challenge.
“They really helped my family and me over the years and I have seen Challenge go on to help so many other families as well,’’ she said.
‘‘The CEO is amazing – he knows every child and their families, makes everyone feel special and gives every child their chance to shine and create amazing memories.
“Personally I have great memories of attending the camp with Bec and I am so grateful to have had that opportunity and that I do have those memories to treasure. It was a dream of Bec’s to be a camp leader and unfortunately she didn’t get the chance to do that in the end but I did.’’
Bec’s death has been pivotal for Brooke.
She continued to help out Challenge camps for many years; becoming a leader and then a camp nurse.
“I then went on to study oncology nursing, then met my husband Jade and today we have got four beautiful girls of our own.
‘‘I took a 10-year break from Challenge but the passing of Thomas, another local child, prompted me to get involved again.”
Initially Brook was hoping to hold a community event to raise $10,000 for her camp idea.
That was the ‘A Night to Remember’ dinner fundraiser that was staged attracted 220 people and raised more than $22,000.
Brooke was blown away and her dream of a camp in Cohuna well and truly came to fruition.
The last Camp Cohuna was held in August and 22 children aged between eight and 12, descended on the town for a two-night stay.
They were treated to a weekend of country fun which included bush activities at tree tops, some 4WD action, a visit to a local goat and dairy farm, Wetlander cruise, camp fire, disco and marshmallows.
Brooke is grateful to every member of the community who helped organise and run the weekend as it is now very much a team effort.
“You only have to suggest something and someone comes up with a way – Cohuna is an amazing community and they have really taken ownership of the camp.
“The kids have an absolute ball and they all go home with huge smiles on their faces and that in itself makes it all worthwhile.
‘‘Many haven’t had the opportunity to experience simple things like the bush, fire and mud and they just love it.”
Now she has a family of her own Brooke said exposing her children to Cohuna Camp has also been a positive experience.
“My girls have learnt about life, death and honesty and I think it is nice to instil in them the importance of doing something nice for someone not as fortunate.
‘‘Cancer is a terrible experience but it can also bring out the best in people too.”
On a personal note this year’s camp was made difficult for the Mallon family by the death of Brooke’s father to prostate cancer.
“This was the first camp without dad and it was hard because he believed in it as much as we did.”
In an effort to change, or freshen, the fundraising approach this year, Brooke has decided to try something different and will be hosting ‘An Afternoon to Remember.’
Featuring a high tea, the afternoon starts at 2pm in the Cohuna Memorial Hall on Saturday November 25.
There will be food, drinks, music and a guest speaker. Tickets are $50 and available from trybooking.