Holding breast cancer fundraising events has extraordinary relevance for Connie Mezzatesta, an education assistant at the Good Shepherd Catholic School in Lockridge.
After she discovered she had breast cancer in 2014, one of her sisters was diagnosed the next year, her brother was told he had bowel cancer the year after and a year later another sister found she too had breast cancer.
“On the day of mum’s funeral she got the call from her doctor to say come in and bring somebody with you.”
Throughout, the family had been caring for their mother with dementia and their 88 year old father with prostate cancer, but Connie says he’s doing well.
“It was a horrible time, at the end of the school year, winding everything up, finding the lump then getting my diagnosis then all the clinics closed down so I had to wait until after January before I could start having surgery and going through the process,” she said.
Connie’s remarkable response to such a series of family blows was to raise funds for cancer research.
In the past two years, family and friends, with the support of local businesses and The Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School have raised more than $10,000 for breast cancer research.
“The way forward for us is research. I have 7 nieces and really, for them, and all the little girls that they know, we don’t want them to go through what we’ve gone through.”
Her aim was to find a researcher who could benefit from her efforts.
A few phones calls led her to Assoc Professor Pilar Blancafort’s cancer laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research where, last week, she was taken on a tour and met the leading breast cancer researcher.
“We are developing proteins to help drugs better enter cancer cells, because it can be as low as only 1% of cancer cells that take in a drug so we work on improving delivery methods. The protein is what we call the cargo that we use to target the cancer.”
Prof Blancafort said she was very grateful for Connie’s support because it makes a difference getting funding that she can direct to investigate new approaches to overcoming cancer, as opposed to grant funding, which is often allocated to very specific research areas.
Connie was pleased to hear her donation would give cancer researchers more opportunities to try new approaches to overcoming the devastating disease.
“It’s amazing, hearing you say that you only get funded for certain things and that this (money) has given you a little bit more freedom.
“It just makes me think I’ve got to get out there and start fundraising again,” said Connie.