“When prayer won’t cut it, practical people need to pitch in.”
Adelaide-born couple Jode and Adam have two kids together and a happy marriage — but for more than a decade now, their lives have been marred by illness.
Jode has the most severe form of cervical cancer there is — a diagnosis that comes after helping Adam through his own 13-year battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, now thankfully in remission. The couple’s youngest daughter Georgia also had to undergo two surgeries this year to remove growths that risked becoming cervical cancer.
“Their 22-year marriage has been happy and full of love, but filled with financial stress and poor health,” Georgia says of her adoring parents.
“Ever since I can remember, my parents have been plagued by health issues getting in the way of their success and happiness.
Our parents have been in a constant battle that doesn’t look like it will end any time soon.”
The cost of these illnesses has pushed the Brisbane-based family’s finances to breaking point, especially as Jode’s deteriorating health means she can no longer work. Even the imminent sale of the family home is unlikely to fund all the medication Jode, 46, needs.
Fortunately for the Matthews, though, their community has rallied around them in a touching show of solidarity and altruism.
“Other people might reach out to their church, their service club or sporting organisation,” Adam Matthews tells Mamamia. “When we realised that, in order to save Jode’s life, we needed far more money than we could manage, we reached out to the Australian secular and sceptical community.”
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Jode and Adam, who were founding members of the Sunshine Coast Atheists, drew on their close ties to secular and sceptic groups across the country and reached out to atheist blogger Chrys Stevenson, who ultimately helped launch an appeal to raise money for Jode’s treatment.
Since its launch on 4 July, the Jode Matthews Cancer & Family Appeal has already attracted an impressive figure.
“In just one week, the secular community, along with friends, family and acquaintances, have contributed over $18,000 towards Jode’s treatment,” Adam says. “We are completely blown away by their love and support.”
Adam tells Mamamia his family’s story is not just one of tragedy. Rather, it highlights an uplifting, often overlooked fact: that you absolutely don’t need to be religious to be charitable.
“This is a story about a community that is often maligned as being militant, materialistic and selfish which has rallied to help one of their own,” Adam says.
“It is a misconception that most of the world’s major charities are religious. Many people who follow no religion contribute to secular charities such as Medicins sans Frontiéres, Amnesty International and the Red Cross.”
Jode’s appeal has the support of some of Australia’s most well-known secular organisations including the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, the Humanist Society of Queensland, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Facebook-based Women Without Religion.
Tragically, despite radiation and chemotherapy treatments helping to reduce the size of Jode’s tumours, her Metastatic Carcinoma of the Cervix is no longer considered curable. But even in the face of the stage 4 cancer, the plucky family hasn’t given up hope.
Jode is still undergoing chemotherapy and has been approved for the expensive drug Avastin, which Jode’s doctors agree may help extend her life.
“Jode is handling treatment really well, and the cancer hasn’t damaged vital organs yet,” the family website says. “The family has travelled this road before. They know they need to act now to stop the cancer before it does irreversible damage.”
After her current course of chemotherapy, Jode will be eligible to apply for a trial of the drug Nivolumab, which may help her achieve remission. Currently, the family believe Jode’s best chance is to travel to the US to participate in the Nivolumab trial (providing she’s accepted, that is).
The family’s website explains the drug “is already showing excellent results in the treatment of melanoma and metastastic lung cancer” — and hopes it is just effective for Jode’s cervical cancer.
While travel to the US for that trial would be expensive — “paying for the treatment could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year” — Georgia writes — the family refuses to spend money on so-called ‘alternative remedies’ like those peddled by unscientific, self-styled wellness gurus.
“We are were… keen that, coming shortly after the Belle Gibson fiasco, we would not be perceived as being another sham (or victim of a sham),” Adam emphasises. We are only interested in evidence-based medicine.”
The family is hoping to raise around $40,000 to $80,000 and hopes its appeal will also help raise awareness of cervical cancer and its prevention.
“[This is] a story about our determination not to take the charity extended to our family for granted,” Adam says. “We hope to get Jode through this journey and take what we have learned to help others.”