December 1, 2021. Botanic House, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

Not even the Omicron strain of Covid could eventually stop the “Collaboration: The key to unlocking advancements in sarcoma” breakfast from finally going ahead. After three false starts, spanning five months, 130 invited guests enjoyed a superb breakfast in the serene and picturesque surrounds of Botanic House, in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.  This event was a collaboration between Sock it to Sarcoma! WA and the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation and was proudly supported by the Weinert family and the Weinert Group of Companies.

The morning began with an unusually balmy 22 degree Sydney morning, with sunshine streaming through the trees and shrubbery, encasing Botanic House.  Guests arrived on time and in time to be seated and enjoy a sumptuous breakfast provided by the Trippas White Group.  We would like to acknowledge Allyson Wert, from the TWG, who oversaw the smooth running of the event, and was a delight to work in the months leading up to the breakfast.

The MC for the morning was Mitchell Rice-Brading, older brother of Cooper, and the consensus is, he did an outstanding job in his new role.  Mitch introduced Mandy Basson, Executive Director of SitS! who has worked tirelessly to advance sarcoma in Australia for over a decade, together with CRBF Chairman, Robert Beech- Jones. who spoke about the value of working together to advance sarcoma in Australia.

Professor Dorothy Keefe

The next speaker was Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO of Cancer Australia, who was unable to attend the event due to a prior commitment with the Federal Minister for Health,  however she took the time to record an inspiring message which resonated deeply with the audience.

Dr Cleola Anderiesz, Deputy CEO Cancer Australia 

Dr Cleola Anderiesz, Deputy CEO of Cancer Australia, kindly stepped in for Professor Keefe, and held the room in the palm of her hand for the entire of her speech, her words echoing the theme of the breakfast, confirming the importance of working together to advance sarcoma.

Vale Celso Munoz

The mood of the breakfast then turned to a very sombre tone, as we each honoured the memory of Celso Munoz, who was to speak at the scheduled July event.  Celso had prepared his speech, which his wife Dr Mariana Sousa had found after he passed away on October 27th, from osteosarcoma.  Mariana felt Celso’s words should be heard, and they were read to our guests, and accompanied by a photographic tribute which can be viewed below.

Highly experienced and extremely personable media personality, performer and author, Gretel Killeen then took the stage to facilitate the research forum.  Gretel was simply outstanding in her role, and due to ongoing AV issues with our link to Western Australia, her professionalism and experience was tested to the limit, however she remained poised and in complete control throughout. Gretel led the panel with Sock it to Sarcoma’s Dr Simon Carroll from WA, Dr Vivek Bhadri, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, ANZSA Board member, Associate Professor David Gyorki, Peter McCallum Cancer Centre,  Professor Michelle Haber AM , CCIA,  Professor Glenn Marshall AM, SCH & CCIA,  Professor David Thomas, GIMR & Omico, through 40 entertaining and informative minutes, with the panel sharing their innovative work and their hopes for the future of sarcoma.

It was then time for CRBF patient advocate Jack Gibson to take the stage, and to deliver such inspiring and heartfelt words, underpinning the importance and significance of hope, and providing deep insight into the past four years since his diagnosis.  You could literally hear a pin drop, as Jack spoke from the heart, and courageously recounted his innermost thoughts on the the role hope plays at various intervals from diagnosis and beyond, not only for him, but for all sarcoma patients.

A tribute to Fergus McCulla

A tribute to Fergus McCulla followed.  Fergus was and is a much loved member of the CRBF community, who lost his life to sarcoma in August of 2021.  We were honoured to have Fergus’ family Jane, Norman and Anna, join us on the morning, and for them to be present for the launch of the Fergus McCulla Psychological Support and Wellbeing programme.  Fergus was a keen and talented musician and an original song he penned and sang, was used as the basis for a photographic tribute, which you can listen to by clicking the link below.

The Fergus McCulla Psychological Support and Wellbeing Programme

Clinical Psychologist, Louise Hird, together with Psychiatrist Dr Lahvinya Kulaendra, created and incepted the psychological support programme, which will provide fully supervised emotional support, free of charge to all sarcoma patients and families nationally.  Louise provided a polished overview of the programme and its purpose for our guests, thanking our graduate volunteers, Nathan Salgo, Henry Foley, Merran Cunningham, and Mitchell Rice-Brading, together with our legal team, Ross McLean and Michael Furlong for the many hours placed into the ensuring all legal requirements were met prior to its launch.

The Wipfli Family Sarcoma Research Grant

Media personality Michael “Wippa”. Wipfli, provided a lighter segment, speaking about his time on Celebrity Apprentice, and what the experience meant to him personally. Wippa on behalf of his beautiful wife Lisa, also attending the breakfast, presented a cheque to Dr Emmy Fleuren for $183,000 which represented his outstanding challenge win on Celebrity Apprentice Australia. He also presented a cheque to Molly Croft and Australian netball star, Amy Parmenter for the Tie Dye Project to aid paediatric/AYA sarcoma research in Australia.

Mr Andrew Hagger, CEO Minderoo and the Minderoo Foundation 

Sock it to Sarcoma and the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation were very excited at the prospect of having Minderoo CEO, Andrew Hagger, present to our guests on the morning.  The universe did manage to throw a number of significant curved balls our way, including WA border closures, which saw Andrew willingly offer to deliver his very important words via livestream. 

The gods of AV had other ideas and the instability of the live stream connection due to the current weather conditions continent wide, saw the line drop out consistently.  Andrew, as a highly seasoned professional had the foresight to record his speech, however nothing it appeared was going to go well in this segment, and the taped message was not played at the event.  This was so terribly  disappointing not only to the two hosting organisations, but to the numerous people attending the breakfast, who had wanted to hear Andrew speak.

We wish to also recognise the time and expertise Bruce Mansfield from the Minderoo Foundation, has invested in assisting CRBF, in building strategies around his vast experience with the Brain Cancer Mission.   This invaluable advice led to the joint submission with SitS! and the National Sarcoma Initiative.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Andrew Hagger and Bruce Mansfield for their high level support, and their willingness to assist both organisations in advancing sarcoma in Australia.

Our thanks to those who have made significant contributions to sarcoma in Australia

An important segment on the morning highlighted a number of significant contributions to sarcoma research over past years, including the Dr Matthew Fisher Research Fund  which amassed in excess of $90,000 and was to be presented to Professor David Thomas at the scheduled July event, by Dr Fisher’s wife, Naomi Chun and his daughters, Sylvie and Vivian.  Dr Fisher lost his life to rhabdomyosarcoma in January of 2021, after a relatively brief but very courageous battle with this savage sarcoma sub-type.  As with each of us in the room on Wednesday, Dr Fisher and his family were and are very passionate about funding research for an eventual cure.

We also wish to mention the Wipfli Family Sarcoma Research Grant, the Daniel Allchin Race for a Cure, conducted by the Allchin family, the Fell Foundation, Running for Tom, in memory of Tom Hardyman, Vince’s Sprint for Sarcoma, The Alex Williams Memorial Fund donated by the Williams family, Dr Mariana Sousa, daughter Mia and the Salesforce team in honour of Celso Munoz, The McCulla Family in memory of Fergus Mculla, and the Weinert family & the Weinert Group of Companies.  We also wish to acknowledge not only those in the room – far too numerous to mention, who have contributed enormously over past years, but also the Australian public, who have embraced this cancer, despite very few ever being personally affected.

Special thanks

Special thanks to Tom Molloy who undertook photography for the event, providing us all with some very special memories. Also to Martin Rossleigh, Siobhan Shaw, Di Lawrance and Emma Duncan for their ongoing assistance on the morning.