Meet the Founder

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Samantha Lehmann

In 2005, my brother Warwick died of cancer at age 35. This was the last thing I would ever have imagined would happen to him and my family.

At the age of 30 Warwick was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour which tore his happy world apart. Watching him struggle through treatment and its side-effects, his inability to work, his loss of independence and seeing the fear in his eyes that he may die broke my heart.

Once Warwick had his operation to remove his brain tumour, he had intense radiotherapy for 6 weeks. He was then told by his surgeon he may not make it to 70. He lived the next 4 and half years relatively well and content, he married his long term girlfriend and they had a gorgeous son. Sadly when his son Declan was 5 months old his cancer returned and he died six months later.

While I was grieving I often thought about what Warwick went through and I could not understand why he was not in a support group with people his own age. I also wondered why he received treatment surrounded by people over 55 – surely there were other young adults in his shoes?

Although we were family, we did not have access to any resources or information about his illness and its effects. We were given no warning about what happens to the body when it starts shutting down and dying. It is very distressing watching someone you love going through the ‘typical’ stages of death and not being informed about them before hand.

I started to do a lot of research on cancer and its effects on young people and I was amazed by what I found. It is now known that every hour a young adult is diagnosed with cancer in Australia. This is 16 times the rate of children, yet there are many organisations dedicated to care, support and research into children with cancer. There are very little resources available to young adults with the same disease and there are so many support networks needed in this wealthy country of ours.

As a young adult myself, I also thought about the effect on my loved ones if I was diagnosed with cancer. As a mother I knew the issues and challenges would be great and I wondered how we as a family would cope with a serious illness like Warwicks. After living the last 10 years of my life as an independent adult would I have to rely heavily on my parents again? What would my future hold?

Through more research I found out that survival rates for people aged 18 – 44 had only improved slightly in 30 years, however, they had improved by 30% for children and the elderly.

To discover that survival rates had hardly changed since 1979 was frightening. With massive advances in technology and constant awareness through other cancer organisations, you would think improvements would be made! Yes, they have for the other two age groups but not for us. It was clear to me that with the love I had for my brother and the strong desire to change what I learnt, The Warwick Cancer Foundation needed to be formed. I was determined to put this special age group on the map so WE got the best care, support, treatment options and research we deserved.

It is important to note that although some cancers can be hereditary or caused by lifestyle choices, many of them are random. Research still cannot prove why many young adults get some types of cancer so we are in this together. Uniting this special age group is paramount if we are going to create the changes needed in our health system and continue the support networks we have created at The Warwick Cancer Foundation.

We don’t receive any government funding and rely solely on the generosity of the general public and Australian businesses to continue our work. Your donations to go towards our 5 key areas:

  • Support programs including our ‘Mates In My Shoes’ program.
  • Awareness projects directed at the public and our national health care system.
  • Providing age appropriate information and resources including information on fertility, treatment side-effects, nutrition, depression, counselling and Centrelink.
  • Research into the most common young adult cancers such as testicular, melanoma, breast, lymphomas, sarcomas, leukaemias and brain tumours, whilst also being able contribute funding towards rarer cancers suffered by young adults.
  • Advocacy for care centres to be established all around Australia for adults under 40 with cancer. We want to be able to contribute funding into new hospital environments and support services that suit needs of adults under 40┬áliving with cancer.

We know that if we can make improvements and changes in these areas then survival rates will improve and young adults will be more empowered and supported to fight this insidious disease.

So to my brother who I wish was here more than anything, I have founded The Warwick Cancer Foundation. Warwick was a very compassionate and empathetic person who loved life and people. He would be proud to know his life and memory represents an organisation that supports Australian young adults living with cancer.