Leukaemia is the general name given to a group of cancers that develop in the bone marrow. Leukaemia originates in developing blood cells that have undergone a malignant change. This means that they multiply in an uncontrolled way and do not mature properly, leaving them unable to function as they should.
In the 1970s, life for someone diagnosed with leukaemia was hard and there was little support. Treatment meant months of chemotherapy, severe side-effects and isolation from their family to remove the risk of infection. Parents were not allowed to comfort and care for their children, and family had to navigate the psychological challenges alone.
In Queensland, medical staff did their best to deliver quality care with few resources. There was only one haematologist and nurses had limited leukaemia training. The lack of bone marrow transplant facilities in Brisbane meant that those people who were strong enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant had to travel south. Their families made the arrangements and covered the expenses. Sadly, many leukaemia patients died while their families suffered and the medical staff looked on in despair.
1975: The Lions Leukaemia Foundation is formed
Brisbane’s first clinical haematologist, Dr Trevor Olsen, agitated for change. Frustrated by the lack of medical and support facilities, he decided with the help of Kurilpa Lions Club, to purchase a lamina flow bed which was donated to the Mater Hospital. At the time, Dr Olsen was treating a young boy whose father was secretary of the Holland Park Lions Club, Bernie Stevenson.
After watching his young son die from leukaemia, Bernie Stevenson introduced Dr Olsen to the Holland Park Lions Club, and the Lions Leukaemia Foundation was formed on 9 October 1975.
Frustrated by the poor quality of life of leukaemia sufferers, and the lack of support facilities, those determined founders set out early, with their sponsors and specialists, to pursue the best available care, treatment and support services for patients the most effective education and training programs for patients, families and nursing staff and the brightest opportunities for groundbreaking research.
Our initial aim is the provision of one machine. More machines are needed, more research is needed, more funds are needed – each way we look we can see the need for more – who can’t say what our eventual goal should be? Whatever the answer, our efforts can only improve the existing bleak conditions of sufferers of this disease.
Grahame Powell, Founding Member, The Lions Leukaemia Foundation, 1975
The new Foundation set four goals: to provide medical care, patient support, fund research and to educate patients, their families and nursing staff.
Western Australians were the first people living interstate, to benefit from the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland’s successful model with an office in Perth opening in 1993. In 1995, the Leukaemia Foundation of Western Australia was formed. This led to the establishment of the Leukaemia Foundation of New South Wales and South Australia (1998), then Victoria and Tasmania (1999). Each time, the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland enlisted the support of leading haematology specialists and nurses to establish support and open an office in each of the capital cities.
In just over a decade, accommodation facilities for regional families were now available in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, together with an evolving support program and growing commitment to research.
Now, the Leukaemia Foundation is proud to be the only national charity dedicated to helping those with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related blood disorders survive and then live a better quality of life. We reach 50% of all newly diagnosed people with blood cancer, whether they are located in metropolitan, regional or remote rural areas. We have also invested millions into vital research into better treatments and cures.
The formative years helped to form today’s maturing organisation, with a focus on pursuing the strategies needed to respond to the current and future needs of people impacted by leukaemias, lymphomas, myelomas and related blood disorders.
Today, Lions Australia continues to work to provide support for many areas of medical research including childhood cancers, Alzheimer’s Disease, spinal cord injury and cord blood research.