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

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”


(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.

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