The FIGHT of CARRIE’S LIFE
It’s been a steep learning curve, but Carrie Bickmore is now raising serious money for brain cancer research on her mission to find a cure
Carrie Bickmore has a habit of underestimating herself. But if ever The Project co-host needs proof that she shouldn’t, she should simply look at her triumphs over the past few years, starting with her Gold Logie acceptance speech back in 2015 (for an award she didn’t think she’d win, of course).
The moment is likely to be lodged in the memories of many of us: A beaming Carrie was crowned the winner on Australian television’s night of nights and took to the stage, where she donned a blue beanie and talked passionately about brain cancer, the disease that took her husband Greg Lange in 2010, when he was just 34 years old.
“Every five hours in Australia someone is diagnosed with brain cancer and eight out of 10 people who are diagnosed will die,” she said, on the edge of tears. “Everyone thinks it’s this rare form of cancer. It’s not. It kills more people under 40 than any other cancer. It kills more kids than any other disease. [And] it receives next to no funding, which is ludicrous.”
Carrie ended her speech by urging Aussies – famous and otherwise – to wear a beanie the next morning, take a photo and share it on social media with the #beanies4braincancer hashtag.
“I was so naïve when I gave that speech,” she admits now with a terse laugh. “For one, I didn’t think I was going to win and I definitely didn’t anticipate the wave of generosity and support that followed. I didn’t have anything set up to deal with the reaction and the people who wanted to donate or help raise awareness. It flooded me for months, and I had a newborn baby and it was incredibly overwhelming but I knew it was my fault. I had to learn quickly.”
And so, Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer was born. The goal was to raise awareness of the disease and $1 million dollars for brain cancer research, which Carrie believed would take four or five years to achieve. Once again, she’s proven herself wrong, raising $1.2 million in less than two years.
The first massive fundraiser was Brain Beats, a charity concert headlined by Ed Sheeran that raised more than $400,000.
Another Brain Beats is in the pipeline, she says. The biggest win came last year, when the charity sold almost 25,000 beanies in 48 hours, raising more than $700,000.
“I only ordered 25,000 beanies because, like with most things, I was thinking, Oh, no-one will buy one and then I’ll be left with a heap of them,” she says. “That was a complete mistake. We sold out in days, which blew me away.”
Carrie’s learnt her lesson this time around and has four times as many beanies ready to warm heads this year. Even as she was putting her order in, though, she had to be convinced that an extra 5000 beanies wouldn’t cut it.
“Everyone has a cause they support and I know I’m just another charity, even though for me it’s my entire life,”
Carrie says. “I’m always hoping people will realise this is where a significant amount of money is needed but I never want to assume the whole of Australia is going to decide brain cancer is now their cause because I know that’s not how the world works.”
The whole nation might not have joined the cause – yet – but there’s no denying a big chunk of it is behind television’s golden girl. So, has she bumped up her fundraising goal after knocking the first one out of the park?
“No, I haven’t,” she admits.
“For me, the aim is to get to a point where families don’t have to watch someone they love suffer the way I did, because that’s just a horrible, horrible process. I don’t know the figure that will cure brain cancer but I do know
I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as long as there’s a will and support.”
The foundation has donated the funds to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, where Greg was treated.
“When I go into the labs and hear about the trials and programs that are prolonging the lives of patients, I realise exactly why I’m doing this,” Carrie says. “What’s exciting is the number of researchers I talk to all over the world who say they’re on the cusp of some really major developments. It’s also the messages I get from families every day who are going through what I’ve been through and thank me for making them feel less alone. That pushes me to keep going.”
Carrie’s a realist, though, and acknowledges that brain cancer survival rates haven’t improved in 30 years and are unlikely to change quickly.
“We’re not under any illusion that they’re going to find a cure tomorrow, but the more money we can give to the researchers, the more effective treatments we’ll get,” she says. “More effective treatments mean more time for patients to spend with their families. New treatments buy people time, and eventually it will lead to a cure.”
While the 36-year-old might be prone to a crisis of confidence when it comes to beanie sales, there’s one thing she’s never lost: hope.
“When the statistics are against you, it can feel like a hopeless war but it’s not and hope is something you have to hold onto in that situation,” she says.
“I remember the people who gave Greg and me hope along the way – the doctors, the patients in the waiting rooms, the families we met – who told us their stories or gave us their advice and, just like that, they gave us hope and kept us going, for another six months, another year. Once you lose hope, you’ve got nothing. But there’s hope and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Until this year, Carrie ran the charity on her own, impressive for a mother of two – Ollie, her son with Greg, is 9, and Evie, her daughter with partner Chris Walker, is 2 – with a job on prime-time television. Now she has a small team, made up of her nearest and dearest (including Ollie) who help out when they can.
“It’s tricky to be good at your job, a good mum and champion a cause, but that support has really helped,” she says.
Since starting Carrie’s
Beanies 4 Brain Cancer, she’s become far more comfortable talking about her past.
“There’s so much of the journey, of Greg’s bravery, of his pain and treatments, that I won’t ever talk about,” she says. “And the honest truth is that it’s always been incredibly painful to talk about any of it. Every time I used to try I’d get really upset and I know there are only so many times people can watch me blubber. It’s still difficult but the foundation has given me strength and hope and positivity, which makes talking about it easier.”
Carrie says she’s often asked why she does it and her answer is simple: “There’s not enough awareness of this brutal, insidious disease, and not enough money going towards curing it. I’m fortunate enough to have a voice that I can use to do something and if I didn’t, I know I’d regret it.”
CARRIE WEARS: (THIS PAGE) CARRIE’S BEANIES 4 BRAIN CANCER BEANIE, ZARA KNIT, HER OWN TOP; (ON THE COVER) SHEIKE JACKET, ZARA JEANS, HER OWN TOP AND HEELS
(from top) Carrie and her partner Chris Walker; her son Ollie wearing a 2016 Beanies 4 Brain Cancer hat ; her daughter Evie; with The Project team, following their win for Best News Panel or Current Affairs Program at the 2017 Logies.