Helen Hackett was a busy woman.
Mother to 3 and a half-year-old twins, a 19 month old toddler and a husband with a thriving and time-consuming real estate business.
When she discovered a lump in her right breast she was told it was a result of breast-feeding. The diagnosis was a relief because she didn’t have time to worry about being sick. But the lump grew.
By the time Helen was accurately diagnosed, cancer had spread throughout her body, invading her lymph nodes and eventually vital organs.
Her busy life became a busy fight for life; surgery, aggressive treatment, followed by bouts of crippling sickness. But after 18 months, Helen lost her battle. She was just 31.
Her family and close friends were left reeling.
“It was such a surreal time. From the initial diagnosis, through the roller-coaster of treatments and the never-ending bad news – it was just such a blur,” said one of Helen’s closest friends, Carla Haddan.
“We were left feeling stunned. Helen’s sickness had been all consuming and after her death we thought, what do we do now?”
Carla helped form a Foundation in Helen’s name and approached the Wesley Breast Clinic in Brisbane, a busy centre that screens and diagnoses 25 000 women annually, on average 100 a day from throughout Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
“There was a group of us, her sister and close friends. We wanted to do something productive and obviously it was also a way of coping with our grief.”
Dr Lisa Erzetich, Director of the Wesley Breast Clinic said at the top of the Clinic’s wish-list was Digital Mammography Equipment – technology that is particularly useful in diagnosing breast abnormalities in younger women or those with dense breast tissue.
“Digital Mammography produces greatly enhanced image quality, which is crucial for early diagnosis,” Dr Erzetich said.
“Digital technology also allows us to adopt other emerging technologies such as Computer Aided Diagnosis and Tomosynthesis. There are added benefits from reduced radiation doses and productivity gains, as the entire examination can be completed more quickly,” Dr Erzetich said.
After that initial meeting, the Helen Hackett Foundation was born and now it had a clear goal.
“I remember that first meeting so clearly,” said Carla.
“We all looked at each other and said ‘right, we’re going to raise enough money to buy this equipment.”
But it was an enormous task.
The price tag on the equipment was $500 000 and the sheer magnitude of the project was daunting for the Foundation’s committee – six mums, with little or no fundraising experience.
“We were way out of our comfort zone. Organising events, finding sponsors, and asking people to donate prizes is not easy,” Carla said.
“I had quite a few moments of doubt – to say the least!”
Four years later and after a series of successful fundraising endeavours, combined with the support of hundreds of businesses and individuals, the Helen Hackett Foundation achieved its goal, raising $525 000 for the Wesley Breast Clinic.
Thanks to the healthy Aussie dollar and a drop in the price of the equipment, there was enough money to purchase two units. The equipment is already in use at the clinic and is already making a difference.
“The Wesley Breast Clinic is a not-for-profit organisation that receives no Government funding. Almost all equipment used by the Wesley Breast Clinic is purchased from fundraising monies,” said Dr Erzetich.
“It would be impossible for the Clinic to function as effectively without the generous support of donors like The Helen Hackett Foundation.
On November 14, the Wesley Breast Clinic officially thanked the Helen Hackett Foundation and in recognition of its work, renamed the Patient Lounge, The Helen Hackett Lounge.
The date had particular significance – it would’ve been Helen’s 38th birthday.
“Helen would’ve been so humbled and slightly embarrassed,” said Carla.
Praising the work of her colleagues on the Committee, she said they had all found the experience incredibly rewarding.
“Throughout this journey we have been delighted and at times overwhelmed by people’s generosity,” Carla said.
“We expected to be doing this for much longer and to have achieved our goal in just over four years is indicative of the support we’ve received.”
“Helen’s story really struck a chord with people. She was a gorgeous young mum who seemed to have it all. As much as we’ve done this in her memory, we’ve done it for other women. “
“We want to give other young women the fighting chance that Helen didn’t have and if accurate diagnosis means that one woman is spared Helen’s fate, then our efforts will have been worthwhile.”