Just over two years ago, Caroline and her husband Andy were loving life as mum and dad to their two and three year olds. Andy worked as a carpenter while Caroline had her hands full as a stay at home mum.
All that came to a screaming halt on 18th December 2013 when Andy was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. Suddenly their carefree days were swapped for long days of 7 hour round trips for tests, scans, appointments and treatment.
Caroline’s concern for Andy was constant – as was her need to be by his side. And she very quickly found out that doing that, being where she had to be – was costly. They needed extra day care for the kids, petrol and $30 a day hospital parking fees. And when it came to Andy’s surgery, the mounting accommodation costs on top of being separated from her children, almost pushed Caroline to breaking point. The cancer. The financial stress. The worry. And the absolute need to keep the family together was overwhelming.
As she wondered how on earth she was going to get through it all, she started to think about hundreds, possibly thousands, of other Aussie families who find themselves in the same awful situation. And she decided to help them. To do something about it. And Heartfelt Homes was created.
A typical day for me whilst Andy was in hospital was: Getting up around 5- 5.30am with the kids, (age 2 and 3) for the usual morning routine, breakfasts, getting dressed, brushing teeth and packing them up for a long day at daycare. Every morning I woke more exhausted than the day before and stressed about money as after dropping the kids off I’d fill the car up with another $100 of petrol.
I dropped them at daycare at 7am then set off on a 3 hour journey to The Royal Brisbane and Womens hospital. I then had to drive around looking for a park which cost in excess of $30 a day. Sometimes this took over half an hour of scouring the multi storey.
Every time I walked through the main doors of the hospital it hit me, it was all real and this was our life, Andy had cancer. His ward had 3 or 4 other patients on who all had had head and neck surgery in different forms. Some had tubes through and down their throats which made a constant sucking gurgling noise which regularly got blocked and needed clearing. Some had half a face removed. It was very confronting but I tried to be cheerful for Andy and sympathetic towards his fellow patients. I would ask Andy if he needed anything from the shop and go on errands for him and the other patients.
I’d sit with Andy for as long as I could, usually until around 2.30pm. In this time the doctors would come round and check him and I could ask questions. After my visit, we would say our goodbyes, I hated leaving him there it really tore me apart. I could usually hold it together until I’d left the ward before I cried. Then I set off back to Lennox full of worry and angst about leaving him there. The drive home was long, it seemed longer than the drive there. There was an hour time difference between NSW and QLD so I would just make it back for 6pm to collect the kids and head home to start the evening routine. I had such mum guilts for leaving them in Daycare for 11 hours a day, they were so little and so tired. We’d head home for dinner, baths, story time and all the other settling bits they both needed. They thought Andy was working away building a big house so we’d talk about that for a little while, I’d try to make it sound really exciting.
After 7.30pm when the kids were sleeping, I couldn’t face dinner myself, I couldn’t face much so I’d have a glass or two of red wine. By this point in the day I was numb, way too tired to cry. I started to focus on this new idea I had (Heartfelt Homes) and it was in these evenings that I really started to put together an outline of what I wanted to achieve. I would work until the early hours on the lap top researching how to set up a charity and what other services existed for families. It was easier to focus on this than what was really happening and I felt productive, useful as though I was in control of something as everything else was so far gone for me. I’d work until I was completely exhausted.
I remember on one visit to see Andy, he was really struggling and he looked terrible. No colour in his face and I knew he’d had a bad night. His calcium levels had dropped to a dangerous level and they had to give him calcium drips. I commented that I was worried about him “I’m more worried about you” he said, “I get to lay here, I get fed and looked after and you’re driving up and down a motorway for 7 hours each day and looking after the kids.”
It hit me that I was a danger on the roads, I’d barely slept in weeks and certainly wasn’t eating much. I knew this wouldn’t change though, how could it? I was on autopilot and I had to hold it together, for Andy and for the kids. I just wanted him home.
Andy was in hospital for just over 2 weeks and if I’m honest I don’t think I could have done many more trips to Brisbane. We told the kids that daddy had had an accident at work with a saw whilst he was building the big house, his neck was cut from right to left, it was very in your face. My little boy Banjo (3) wanted to know all the gory details, the size of the saw, how much blood there was etc… My little girl, Kitty (2) just gave Andy her dummy and Blanket and lots of cuddles. To this day the kids are non the wiser about Andy’s health but they do know about Heartfelt Homes and what it does.
They are very proud that when his neck was healing, Daddy rode his bike from Lennox Head to Sydney with a few friends and raised over $10,000 for Heartfelt Homes. As part of Andy’s rehabilitation he was advised to cycle as he is now partially paralysed on his right side from the back of his head, his neck, through his shoulder and down to his elbow. After cycling around town for a month or so, he decided to challenge himself and help raise money for other families needing Heartfelt Homes. It is 1 year this month that Andy and 5 friends set off to Sydney and I am just so proud of him and the other boys. He has overcome so much in such a short time and really wanted to do his bit to help.
So far the Heartfelt Homes charity founded by Caroline has provided over 450 nights accommodation to 100
families from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.
I am very proud of this but we do need help to grow and support more families in need.
Heartfelt Homes supports many families and when I am arranging accommodation for them I mainly speak with mums. I would love to spread the word about this essential service, let families know we exist and inform them how to access our service.
We wish Caroline and her family all the very best with the Heartfelt Homes charity. Your strength, dedication and passion to help ease the financial burden for families already going through an incredibly difficult times is truly an inspiration.