Earlier this month our Carer Gateway team invited over 80 carers to a special High Tea at NSW Parliament House to mark National Carers Week.
Running from October 16-22, the week recognises and celebrates the 2.65 million Australians who provide care and support to a family member or friend.
The event was hosted by Carer Conversations podcast presenter and Carer Gateway counsellor Patty Kikos, who gave a warm introduction to guest speaker, acclaimed Sydney-based author Chery Koenig OAM.
The event was hosted by Carer Conversations podcast presenter and Carer Gateway counsellor Patty Kikos pictured above.
Cheryl was named 2009 NSW Woman of the Year and received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2014 for services to people with disabilities, their families and carers.
Her involvement with disability services arose out of caring and advocacy for her son Jonathan, who sustained an extremely severe TBI (traumatic brain injury) after being hit by a speeding car at the age of 12.
Cheryl’s book ‘Paper Cranes – A Mother’s Story of Hope, Courage and Determination’, detailed her family’s journey following the accident, after which she became her son’s carer.
He was given very little chance of survival and, when he miraculously pulled through, doctors predicted that he would most likely never walk, talk or even eat again. “But as a family, we refused to accept this prognosis and have spent the last two decades on a relentless quest to restore as much function as possible to our son,” she says.
After many years of hard work, therapy, sheer determination and family support, the now 37-year-old not only walks well, but can run, ski, play piano, tennis, swim and is learning to drive – all whilst working three part-time jobs.
Cheryl Koenig OAM thanked The Benevolent Society for organising ‘such a lovely event to celebrate the unique lives and identities of carers.’
The message that shines through her words is that with persistence, determination, family, and love, almost any challenge can be faced and conquered. “From the depths of tragedy, we were able to come out the other side, with the realisation that we were not victims, but we were indeed lucky!
“If you are a carer, I encourage you to put pen to paper. Writing can often provide a sense of emotional release, or a stimulating experience that may temporarily offer a place of escapement.”
Alongside her numerous achievements and work, Cheryl sees her carer role as the single most important job in the world.
“It is the job I am most proud of,” she told the carers in attendance. “It tells you more about me, my values and ethos, than any other role or accolade. Yes, it is physically demanding and at times emotionally exhausting – but it is also uniquely rewarding. And, in my opinion, there is no job more worthwhile than enhancing the health and happiness of someone that you love.”
A Million Reasons to Care
This year’s theme for Carers Week was ‘A Million Reasons to Care’. “In my reality, there are only four categories of people in this world,” Cheryl says. “Those who have been carers, those who are currently carers, those who will be carers and those who will need carers.
“What I take from the theme is that we need millions of people across society to understand that they are but one-step away from caring themselves. We need these same millions to be aware of who we are, our values, our identities, our needs, wants, losses, dreams, desires – as at any given moment they could be standing in our shoes.”
Cheryl believes carers embody several essential qualities - optimism, resilience, audacity, hope, as well as an ability to survive daily challenges for themselves and for those they love. “Until you start caring for someone you have no idea of the depth of your strength, tenacity and resourcefulness,” she says.
Her fifth book, In My Blood, explores her own battle after being diagnosed with blood cancer and what happens to families when the primary carer is faced with a life-threatening illness.
Now cancer-free, she says: “In my opinion we all have inner strength. Some easily know what this is and find ways to use it; some (like many carers) are forced to discover theirs and use it daily to tackle adversity; while others never know what wonders are hidden within their minds and hearts.”
Through tireless fundraising efforts, she has helped raise over $300,000 for various health care services and non-government support groups, and she remains passionate about advocating for carers to be validated for the important role they play in society.
Cheryl continues to volunteer her free time assisting in development of government policy and services in the health care arena, which she combines with her passion for writing. “Whenever I get the opportunity, I raise pertinent issues like the devastating effect social isolation has on carers and their loved ones. Naturally I talk about raising community awareness about the important and often undervalued role carers play in society and of course the need for better financial support and improved integration of services,” she says.
In closing, Cheryl imparted the important life lessons she’d learned over the past 25 years. They included the importance of centering life on what you have, not what you lack; never allowing yourself to be uninvolved, uninformed or undervalued by anyone; never letting someone else’s doubts blur your vision and making happiness a priority.
“Research has proven many times over that the only path to happiness is to choose to give to, or care about, others. I think we can all be very proud of our choice to care… and indeed the very fact that we have the courage to care. For courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid – but courage means you don’t let the fear stop you!”
Other guests at the High Tea included Michael Woodhouse, our Executive Director, Disability, Ageing and Carers, our Director of Aged Care, Jo Fitzgerald, staff from our Carer Gateway team including Team Leader Michelle Williams, Client Support Partners, Kylie Duffy and Anthea Bolton, and Partnership Specialist, Joel Rogers.
Our Partnership Specialist Debra Atherton also gave attendees an overview of the services and support provided by Carer Gateway.
Michael Woodhouse, our Executive Director, Disability, Ageing and Carers.
If you are caring for a family member or friend, there is support for you too. For more information about our Carer Gateway service, click here or call 1800 422 737. Chery Koenig OAM is special guest on episode four of our Carer Conversations podcast – click here to listen.