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The McGrath Foundation: Supporting women with breast cancer

Kylea

by KYLEA TINK

For just over 4 years now, I’ve been the CEO at the McGrath Foundation and in many ways, it was a role I fell into because someone I knew, and liked, needed help.

By no means is this the cookie-cutter, rat race to green grass transition. I had a wonderful career and enjoyed my time as a PR consultant – travelling to New York, Singapore and London, meeting some incredible people such as Donald Rumsfeld and Teddy Kennedy and working on campaigns and brand stories I truly believed in and felt part of. As one of the youngest MDs for the consultancy internationally, I was rewarded with a flexible work environment to accommodate my young and growing family – and an amazing level of responsibility and opportunity.

But it was a recommendation to a client in 2006 that started my C Change- shifting from Commercial to Charity.  I told a client that to make a global initiative work in Australia, they needed a charity partner, leading me to discover the McGrath Foundation and what the girls were trying to achieve. And so from 2006 to 2008, my PR Consultancy worked with the McGrath Foundation on a pro-bono basis, allowing me to establish strong relationships with the team which would later become friendships.

I felt a personal affinity with Jane because I had discovered a lump in my breast the same year Jane had found hers, although I was lucky mine was benign.

I was fortunate enough to have my youngest child in 2007 – a gorgeous little girl to join my son and my other daughter. Life was incredibly full and for the first time ever, I actually took maternity leave. But it was during this time Jane passed away and in a sense you could say, it was when my life would be forever changed.

June 22, 2008 will always be a date that causes me to pause. It was my youngest daughter’s christening day, and just after lunch, I received a message about Jane’s passing.  It was such a sad day but I did what any friend would do in the same circumstance – I sent a message to Tracy (Bevan) sending her all of my love and letting her know if there was anything I could do to help I was only a phone call away.

That call came early the next morning from the one of the only two staff then working for the Foundation.  Did I have any advice on handling the media? How should she handle the calls from State Government officials and comments on the website? Within 45 minutes, the kids were dropped off to another friend and I headed into the Foundation’s offices where I stayed pretty much day in and day out for the next four weeks.

In the week after Jane’s passing, more than $1.3 million in donations poured in from a nation that can only be described as being in a state of mourning. People were devastated that someone so graceful and so loved could have been lost. They wanted to be there for Jane’s family and friends and to honour her memory.

But by the end of August when Glenn, Tracy and the staff had regrouped after Jane’s passing to look to the future for the Foundation and what needed to be achieved in her memory, I couldn’t help but feel I had an obligation to stay. Slowly but surely the tides started to turn for my “C” change.

The McGrath Foundation

The problem was I’d never aspired to work for a charity. While I admired people that took the ‘call’, I felt many of the organisations had lost touch – they were too big and too often, in my opinion, concerned with keeping themselves going rather than getting on with real work, the all important reason they had come to be.

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At that stage, there was so little here but even then, I knew there was so much potential – three staff, four McGrath Breast Care Nurses nationally (with three pending placement in South Australia) and a Board that was passionate and dedicated to a friend’s memory, all of it needing just that little more support. The difference was there was now a country that wanted to learn and do more – a real sense of wanting to help get stuff done or as we like to say, friends coming together to make a difference, a premise that had started the Foundation in the first place.

And so I stayed – but on the basis we wouldn’t do business the old way. Instead, we’d take all of our commercial and life learning and apply it to the challenge that Jane had set us and in a way our founding values would become our compass for each step of our growth. They were our way of staying true to what we believed Jane would have valued. I can look back now and see that no matter how far we’ve come, we have stayed true this.

We value friendship and are eternally grateful for anyone who steps up to support us; we work with integrity to ensure we don’t lose our way; we ensure all activity we undertake is mutually beneficial as give and take is what friendship is all about; we innovate as why do what people expect when you can do it ‘your own way’; we have respect for everyone who supports us, be it our Corporate, Government or Community Friends;  we live with passion as you need a tonne of it to face the challenge we set ourselves; and most importantly, we have fun achieving our mission because Jane believed in living life to the fullest as life is too precious to be lost in anything else.

Four years on, these values have helped us achieve so much.  We now have over 77 McGrath Breast Care Nurses working in communities right across Australia, in every state and territory, including one who flies with the Royal Flying Doctor Service into three different states!  Breathtakingly, these wonderful McGrath Breast Care Nurses have supported over 16,000 families through their breast cancer experience, offering a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on.

I also have the most amazing team of talented people working around me, many of which I’ve worked with before and every one of them has become part of the McGrath Foundation Family because they too whole-heartedly believe in seeing the Foundation’s mission through to reality.

Because you see, we know we need 150 McGrath Breast Care Nurses nationally to ensure every Australian family experiencing breast cancer has access to the support they need, no matter where they live or their financial situation.  We’re now over halfway there but we still have a distance to go, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there were some nights where I lie awake sending messages to the universe for help to see us through.

These days, I like to think Jane would be happy with what we’ve achieved as her personal experience has fundamentally informed everything we do.  Imagine living in a country where every family has the support it needs … and being part of having made it happen?

Well, that sense for me is all the proof anyone should need that making a “C” change really can make a massive difference.

You can purchase the remaining tickets to the McGrath Foundation’s signature October High Teas and also the Cricket High Teas over the summer (High Tea at the G and Jane McGrath High Tea) here

You can also follow the McGrath Foundation on Twitter here and like them on Facebook here

Kylea is the CEO for the McGrath Foundation and is responsible for ensuring all the Foundation’s activities continue to work towards realising Jane McGrath, Glenn McGrath and Tracy Bevan’s original visions for the provision of support to women with breast cancer and their families right across Australia and for increased breast awareness in younger women. Having spent the last 15 years working in roles covering the areas of health, education, health care provision, product management, media management, communication strategy and execution and having grown up in regional NSW, Kylea brings a wealth of experience and a passionate commitment to the Foundation. Follow her on Twitter here.

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