January 27, 2018
Every now and again, you will meet someone quite by chance, and they will have a huge impact on your day, and sometimes, your life. This was the case with Gail O’Brien, AO.
I remember a chance meeting very early in Cooper’s treatment, not long after Cooper became intent on raising money for sarcoma awareness and research, and to contribute as much as possible toward the inception of the Comprehensive Sarcoma Centre, within the world class facility that is Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. I had no idea at the time this would prove to be life changing.
I entered the room, and met this demure, quietly spoken, yet exceptionally warm lady, who I soon felt I had known for decades. Her day I suspected, was full, as Gail is in high demand within the confines of Lifehouse, and yet she had quite unexpectedly put aside time to meet with me to discuss ideas for Cooper’s Foundation launch. It is important to point out that fundraising is not officially one of the many hats Gail wears within the auspices of the hospital, and yet there she was, providing her complete and undivided attention, and offering untold co-operation and guidance. I left that meeting with a sense of calm, which I had not felt in some time. Not only did she offer assistance with the function, Gail causally offered her time for a chat if I felt overwhelmed over the time ahead. Cooper’s diagnosis had left our family reeling, and I often felt I was living in a bubble, and very disconnected from the outside world, so to have someone who truly understood that feeling, provided an unexpected peace of mind.
Gail forged a lovely, and very significant friendship with Cooper, whom she would pop in to visit, when she knew he was an inpatient, and in turn, Coop developed a strong fondness and admiration for her. She was one of the few people outside his medical staff, he allowed to see him as his cancer progressed. When his inaugural dinner was imminent, he insisted I arrange to have her address his guests, as in his words, “Gail really gets it mum…” That was sadly the case. Gail had not only suffered the heartbreak of losing her beloved husband, but had also suffered the unimaginable loss of her eldest son Adam, two years after.
Despite her own enormous adversities, the grace in which Gail continues to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients, is something to behold. She is humble, yet strong, and is, put very simply, a force of nature. For the better part, she flies under the radar, and does not seek notoriety for the work she does – she just does what needs to be done. She has more energy than anyone I know. I have often received emails from her very late at night, when I know she has been working at the hospital all day, and beyond. She has time for everyone, and has perfected the fine art of listening. The formal list of achievements which led to her receiving this award, I suspect do not even touch the surface of the things she does for others in need, outside her capacity at Lifehouse.
Gail, we could not be happier to hear of your award – Officer of the Order of Australia. I know this is not what you aspire to, but from the outside looking in, it is so heartening to see those presiding over these awards, absolutely got it right this year. Cooper would have been as delighted as we are to see this acknowledgement of the decades of work you have dedicated to cancer patients, together with your beautiful smile, and your lovely manner. The world needs more people just like you…