We are blessed to be involved in a field where we encounter life changing individuals on a daily basis. Mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who capture the human spirit in a capacity you wouldn’t ordinarily have thought possible. We need not look past Cooper as proof of that, yet we fail to become desensitised to the extraordinary. Which is what makes writing this tribute today, so very hard.
Today we remember the life of an individual who reconceptualised our understanding of the human spirit, and who redefined the parameters of stoicism. He restored faith in our family when we so desperately required it. Today, we are heartbroken to be writing of the passing of Jack Gibson.
When Coops was undergoing treatment, we heard news of another boy who had been diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. We heard news of a fundraising campaign amongst the Colleges at Sydney Uni, where a bunch of boys were shaving their heads to raise money and awareness. Although a dire situation, we were amazed at the support being generated and the lengths people were going to. We were later to meet this extraordinary group of Jack’s closest friends, who leave us without words.
After he completed his first round of treatment, we were formally introduced to Jack and the entire Gibson family: Suzie, Neil, Harry and Lily. We needn’t wonder for much longer why people were going to the lengths they were. It’s difficult to verbalise the instantaneous impact Jack and the whole family has on those who meet them: we were just another addition to the list. Beneath the boundless smiles and positivity was a refusal to be defined by the situation. It was and remains innate. We formed an immediate connection, like everyone else.
Over the next few years, we became closer and closer with Jack, and we learned more about this beautiful individual. When you walked into a room with him, it instantly felt like a weight was lifted off your shoulders. He was innately caring, yet wasn’t overbearing; he was considerate, and always very considered. It was always quality over quantity. Jack had the capacity to hold a room in the palm of his hands from the corner of said room: he never needed to be the centre of attention, nor wanted it, yet people naturally gravitated towards him. This innate, reassuring aura ensured no one was exposed to the true brutality of the struggle he was facing. It was pure selflessness: it was never an active attempt to protect those around him, it’s just who he was.
His caring nature was personified in his perfect smile. Much is said of those who have smiles who light up a room: Jack Gibson had a smile that would light up 10 rooms. It was the external attribute that was emblematic of his internal personality. It projected an authentic sense of love that demanded it be reciprocated. And it was – always.
Jack genuinely loved and had time for all those around him, and everyone loved and had time for him. Proof of this was when he was informed of his prognosis a few months ago. Jack came down to Sydney and completed the challenging 14km City2Surf, inspiring all around him. He then hosted a party at the family property on the Manning River and kicked into the wee hours of the morning on the back of Sugar free Coke.
When told he may only have a few months to live, it would have been easy to shut up shop and bemoan the cruelty of his situation. No one would have blamed him for that. Instead, Jack spoke of the blessed opportunity he had to say goodbye to everyone, to all those that had meant something to him throughout his life. We need to remember we are talking about a 25-year-old. Words will never do it justice.
Jack’s impact on people extended beyond his close friends and family. His impact on the Foundation cannot be quantified. When we first met Jack, all he wanted to know was how he could help and would drop anything to do so. As a 22-year-old, he was spending nights sitting in CRBF Board meetings to help shape the direction of the Foundation. But diminishing his role to ‘featuring’ doesn’t do it justice: he was driving the Patient Support capability at CRBF. His impact on those within the Foundation will be felt for the longest time.
Over past months, we have received daily messages checking in on Jack’s progress, and it has been heart-breaking informing those checking in, of the dire nature of the situation. These are hardened men and women broken down because of the impact Jack has had on them. His role externally cannot be understated either.
Before we spoke of Jack’s ability to hold a room in the palm of his hands. This will never be better exemplified than his speech about “Hope” at Botanic House for the Foundation “Collaboration Breakfast” One medical advisory Board member, immersed in sarcoma for 40 years, described it as the best speech he ever had the privilege to listen to. It was, by any definition, perfect.
Whether it was to a room of corporates, our Board of Directors, or the patients he cared for, Jack’s ability to combine his lived experience with his innately caring nature and his beautiful delivery ensured his impact extended to all corners. He was the quintessential reluctant hero: an organic capacity to inspire. This was embodied by the outpouring of support, love and genuine concern for he and his family, when it was clear, his condition was worsening.
It is important to not gloss over the wide-ranging impact of the entire Gibson family. We love and admire Jack for his caring, stoic nature, yet we do not question for one moment where it stems from. Suzie, Neil, Harry and Lily all possess the qualities that have defined Jack over the course of his life. They have never admitted suffering nor pain: they have just kept fighting alongside Jack. The connection we have developed with the Gibson family will extend for many years to come. They have inspired us to be better people. Our hearts simply break for them today.
This leaves us to recognise Jack’s remarkable group of friends, young men and women who have not left Jack’s side or that of his family. They, together with their parents have wrapped their arms around the Gibson family and provided endless love and support when their hearts are also breaking.
A large number of this friendship group competed in Jack’s honour at last weekends Noosa Triathlon. Whilst each bearing the pain of Jack’s deterioration. This was an event Jack was also participating in, and the eye watering amount raised was directed to the national sarcoma patient support programme through CRBF.
Which informs this final paragraph. Jack’s presence in our family’s lives came at a time when we were at our lowest ebb. A young sporty kid, who had a deeply innate care for those around him, who discovered of his diagnosis following an injury: I need not spell out the obvious parallels to the son and brother we lost any further. He was a gift to us that we truly needed. He reminded us of the good in the world, at a time when we found no good in the world. It is true that he has filled the role in the Foundation that Coops was meant to: that driving force with lived experience like few others.
The reality is, he has filled that role in our family as well. We will never be able to articulate the impact Jack has had on us: the hole he dragged us out of, the lessons he has taught us, and the way we must continue to live our lives from here on out. We will have eternal gratitude to have been touched by his presence that will never do his impact justice.
As a son, as a brother; as family, as a friend; as a colleague, as a champion of the fight against sarcoma. In so many capacities, Jack Gibson is irreplaceable, and there is no escaping that reality. But we can ensure that legacy is undying by acting in the manner that he would. We can provide unconditional care for those around us; we can demonstrate resilience and stoicism in the situations that demand it; we can shine perspective on a situation to ensure we aren’t left bemoaning it’s direness. But most importantly, we can love those around us so genuinely that they have no choice but to reflect that love.