A Foundation Born from Friendship
23 February 2017 at 8:36 am
Friendship, love and passion can change lives, according to McGrath Foundation ambassador and director Tracy Bevan, who delivered the annual Syd Herron Oration in Queensland.
Bevan used her speech, during the opening plenary of the Fundraising Institute Australia’s annual conference on Wednesday, to recall how she helped set up the foundation with her best friend Jane McGrath, following McGrath’s diagnosis with secondary breast cancer.
In a moving account, that was greeted with laughter and applause from the audience, she talked about getting to know McGrath and how their “brilliant, lovely, funny friendship” continued to be a driving force behind the achievements of the foundation.
“Jane McGrath was my best friend,” Bevan told the conference.
“I think about the dream she had for the McGrath Foundation, what the McGrath Foundation has achieved since she has passed, because of the brilliant community of Australia.
“We work with corporates, we work with communities and it just never fails to make me feel so proud.”
Bevan told Pro Bono News it was an honour to give the oration.
“It is that much of an honour I can’t believe it and I’m really excited,” Bevan said.
“It’s just really talking about how the foundation started and what was the driving reason for why we do what we do.
“The story of Jane and my friendship and how that developed from her diagnosis of breast cancer, and what the impact has been since she’s been passed and just really trying to help people understand how friendship and love and passion can really change and make a difference to people’s lives.
“To me it is just being really open and candid about the story of the foundation and where we are at now. Hopefully that inspires people.”
The foundation’s mission is to give everyone experiencing breast cancer access to a McGrath Breast Care Nurse free of charge and to raise awareness of breast health among young people.
Since launching, the foundation has helped more than 50,000 Australian families placing 110 breast care nurses, with a further seven nurses set to be placed in 2017 following funding received from the Pink Test.
Bevan said it the idea was born from McGrath’s personal experience.
“I know from my beautiful friend Jane McGrath, just how important our breast care nurses are,” she said.
“Not only do they act as a patient’s advocate, help them navigate through the medical system, but they are also there to answer the questions that, as my friend Jane said, she didn’t want to talk to her oncologist about, she felt silly talking to her GP about, but talking to her ‘angel’ as she called her, was so much easier and made her life that little bit easier in one of the darkest times of her life.”
She recalled the moment, after McGrath had come home after a chemotherapy session, when the pair knew what the foundation was going to do.
“I received a phone call and she was like: ‘Hi darl’, I said: ‘Didn’t you go for treatment today?’ because I know chemotherapy voice, and she said: “Today, I met an angel,’” Bevan told the conference.
“And I’m like: ‘Do you not want to have a lie down, ring me back when you’re not seeing angels?’
“She said: ‘No, today I met an angel, that angel is called Alison, she’s a breast care nurse… I know what we need to do in our charity. We’ve got to get serious. We need to make sure Australian’s have access to these angels, these breast care nurses.’”
Bevan, who moved to Australia from England when she married cricketing legend Michael Bevan in 1994, said she never expected the foundation to be so successful.
“I mean this in the nicest possible sense, but it wasn’t meant to be like this to be honest with you,” she said.
“Our goals, we thought, were like pipe dreams.
“Selfishly, this was about Jane and I, because we obviously became friends and then we became wives then we became mothers, and even though we were together, the only thing that seemed to be giving was our friendship… we were focused on being mothers and wives first so this was… basically a reason to spend time together and not feel guilty.”
Bevan said her role changed “completely” after McGrath passed.
“So she is not here which is really difficult, but you can’t be sad when you see what Australia is allowing the McGrath Foundation to do,” she said.
“Glenn [McGrath] and I spent the time nursing her until the day that she did pass away, I made huge promises as a godmother to her and Glenn’s children, and with the McGrath Foundation, so to me, although the role I played changed the minute Jane passed away, it is a role that I take incredibly seriously.
“And [I’m] proud and privileged to do [it], because every day that I’m here, with the team and because of Australia, I’m able to keep those goals. So yes, it is difficult that she is not here, yes I would give anything to have her back but I need the foundation, it doesn’t need me.”
Bevan acknowledged the fundraising landscape had changed over the years.
“I feel like there is a catching up,” she said.
“Others are starting to do what we did from day one, so we never looked at ourselves as a charity, we looked at ourselves as a business.
“We always get to know the people we work with on a personal level, we always think that if you are speaking to someone as a friend and you take off their title, friends want to help each other.
“So our communications have always been real and we’ve always tried to work on that friendship, partnership way of doing things, so I actually feel like we led a lot of the way.
“A lot of people might not agree with that! But I do feel like, we have been very organic and real in the way we approached charity, and the sad factor is that 49 women a day are diagnosed with breast cancer so someone somewhere knows someone or has had an experience themselves.”
Bevan said what they do is also very tangible.
“I can show you where your dollar has gone, I can introduce you to the breast care nurse, I can introduce you to the patient and the family member who can then thank you for the difference it has made to their lives,” she said.
“So I think charity as a whole has had to get smarter. I just think we all have and I can see that.”
Bevan said she hoped sharing her experience of the McGrath Foundation could inspire others.
“I hope they have a better understanding of who the McGrath Foundation is… there is a lot of people [who] still don’t know 100 per cent what we do,” she said.
“But I hope they feel a little bit inspired that what started off as two girls wanting to make a difference to other people, didn’t have any experience in this whatsoever, with just the drive and the passion and the love and the want to change, you can really can achieve anything.”
In her closing comments to the audience she said she knew McGrath would be proud.
“My friend would be enormously proud of this beautiful country, she would be really proud of Australia allowing the McGrath Foundation, she would be proud of our 117 angels who supported 50,000 Australian families, she would be most proud of her babies,” Bevan said.
“I stand here, I’m passionate about the McGrath Foundation, I am passionate about fundraising, because I am passionate about the promise I made to my friend.”