Seven years ago, Amelia Maria became a widow at the age of 27.
Amelia and her one-year-old son Dennis lost husband and father Mike Maria to acute leukaemia. The 26-year-old had been a Deputy Captain with Queanbeyan City Fire Brigade.
When Mamamia caught up with Amelia, she was recovering from a 16-hour shift in rural NSW, fighting fires in conditions the state has never seen before. Her work was closed down due to the toxic smoke levels in Canberra, so she was home with her kids sewing pouches for wild life rescuers.
“We found out we were pregnant with Dennis at the airport on the way home from our honeymoon,” Amelia tells Mamamia. “He was just so excited. Mike wanted to have kids straight away and I’m so glad we did, because otherwise we wouldn’t have Dennis.”
A week after celebrating Dennis’s first birthday, Mike found a lump under his arm. “It just looked like an ingrown hair that wouldn’t go away,” Amelia says.
Like any new parents with a baby who didn’t sleep, they were both feeling run down and tired. But Amelia says Mike had a cold he just couldn’t shake.
After a trip to the GP, a blood test and further tests in hospital, it was confirmed that Mike had leukemia.
After doctors tried everything they could to save his life, Mike died peacefully, surrounded by loved ones just shy of Dennis’s second birthday. On special occasions, Amelia and Dennis still receive cards from Mike. Before he died, he entrusted his sister-in-law to deliver them.
Six years after Mike’s death, NSW joined other states by introducing presumptive workers compensation for firefighters who have been diagnosed with various primary site cancers.
Dr Fabienne Reisen is a Principal Research Scientist at the CSIRO, and explains to Mamamia that "bushfire smoke contains compounds that are carcinogenic to humans".