Date: 13 September 2023

Brisbane united to raise $895,000 for regional youth cancer patients

At only 19 years old, Kirsty Lester has faced a cancer diagnosis twice, having to leave behind her life in Gladstone to access cancer treatment in Brisbane that simply couldn’t be provided closer to home.

Kirsty shared her story in a heartwarming speech at Sony Foundation’s annual Brissy4Ward event as one of more than 300 regional youth cancer patients who has benefitted from free accommodation in the city provided by Sony Foundation’s You Can Stay program.

The star studded event had Australia’s sporting legends including Johnathan Thurston, Giaan Rooney, Cate Campbell, Mollie O’Callaghan, Ian Healy and Michael Kasprowitz. Sony Music treated guests to epic performances by music royalty Daryl Braithwaite, Busby Marou and Royston.

Records were broken with the 350 strong crowd producing an incredible fundraising total of $895,000, which was $250,000 more than the previous year. Sony Foundation announced at the event that funds raised at Brissy4Ward will enable the expansion of ‘You Can Stay’, increasing the eligibility age from 15–25 years to up to 29 years. This will see the number of regional and rural patients supported by the program doubled.

Alarmingly, one-third of youth cancer patients are from regional areas and they are more likely to suffer mental health issues, financial strain and isolation due to the increased burden of seeking life-saving treatment in major cities. The survival rate of Australians living more than 200km from cancer treatment can be up to 30% lower than people living close by.

Sony Foundation’s You Can Stay program is an innovative accommodation program specifically designed for the unique needs of youth cancer patients, providing free and uncapped accommodation in a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment near city hospitals. You Can Stay enables regional and rural youth cancer patients and their families to stay together, ensuring they have emotional support and stability while away from home, essential for any cancer journey, without the financial burden.

Celebrity hosts of Brissy4Ward were from Sony Foundation’s Corporate and Media Partner network included Seven Network’s Sharyn Ghidella, Max Futcher, Kendall Gilding, Kimberley Busteed; Nine’s Melissa Downes, Andrew Lofthouse, Kiis 97.3’s Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen, Kip Wightman; NOVA 106.9’s Ash Bradnam, David “Luttsy” Lutteral, Susie O’Neill.

Sony Foundation Ambassador, Johnathan Thurston shared a special moment during the event where he was reunited with 22 year old cancer survivor, Molly Dawson who attended Brissy4Ward four years ago whilst on treatment.

Molly said, “I remember JT and I had a conversation about sport because I had to stop playing sports when I began treatment. I remember that he said to me "sport will always be there, you just might do it differently when you go back. After treatment I went onto work with Antionio Kafusi (ex NRL player) and staff at my old high school to assist coach and manage the first female rugby league team.

I couldn't participate in sport for some time but coaching and managing was my something different, like JT suggested.

I really wanted to come here today to say thanks to JT for giving me the hope and inspiration during a really dark time for me and do what I can to give back, because days like today matter.”

Now in remission, Molly is an advocate for You Can Stay as she too had to travel from her home in Bundaberg to Brisbane for cancer treatment.

Kirsty and her family have received over 140 nights of accommodation at no cost, as part of the You Can Stay program, which has been an essential part of her cancer journey in Brisbane.

Kirsty said, “I’ve been in the adult hospital, sharing a room with 40 and 50-year-old men…and that feels very scary to me. That's why I've been so grateful to the Sony Foundation for its You Can Stay program.

“We wouldn't be able to afford the amount of accommodation that I would have needed. It has taken enormous pressure and worry away from me and my family, letting us just concentrate solely on treatment.”

Sophie Ryan, Chief Executive Officer, Sony Foundation Australia, said the expansion of the program to support patients up to 29 years, was an essential next step.

“This is a health equity issue. Youth cancer patients are commonly diagnosed with rare, complex and aggressive cancers requiring specialised treatment in city hospitals We know there is a growing demand for accommodation from patients in the young adult age range, a lack of services to meet their needs and an insufficient government subsidy for accommodation for patients. You Can Stay plays an integral role in improving the survival rates of regional youth cancer patients by ensuring access to lifesaving treatment,” said Ms. Ryan.

Since You Can Stay launched in June 2020, Sony Foundation has funded more than 16,000 nights for over 300 patients aged 15-25 years, and their families, across Australia. The average stay for a patient in the program is 53 nights, equating to a saving of approximately $10,000 per patient.

Sony Foundation is grateful to the Corporate and Media partners who attended, and our Event Partners who generously supported including; Aperol Spritz, Asahi, Crystalbrook Vincent, DHL, GH Mumm, Howard Smith Wharves, Oasis Cruising, Quest Apartment Hotels, Reidel, Santa Vittoria, Spicers Scenic Rim, Suncorp Stadium, The Content Division, The Music Box, Trip A Deal, United Airlines.

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