One family’s tragedy has spurred them on to raise awareness and help find a cure for melanoma. Maura Luxford shares this inspiring story …
What’s your background, Maura?
I was raised in a large family of nine kids; my father was a drover, Mum a nurse. I spent most of my life up until 1992 on the road droving, firstly with my own family, then from 1988 with my husband, Lindsay Matthews. I spent from 1977-1992 in far western NSW between Moree and Hay droving and contract mustering, then moved up here to the Mid North Coast in 1992 and went to Southern Cross University.
Since then, I have worked in the Macleay and Hastings Valleys as a counsellor, youth worker and educator. I’m a mother to three kids aged between 13 – 23. I work part-time for TAFE while doing a huge amount of voluntary work to put melanoma and skin cancer on the radar of young people across the nation.
I am also a volunteer with the NSW Cancer Council as MP Liaison advocate, community advocate and Relay for Life Committee member. I have also just won a scholarship to participate in a nine-month study program in Sydney with the School of Social Entrepreneurs, to support the work I am doing in community and schools from March – November 2012.
What was the event that occurred in 2008, which ultimately completely changed life for you and your family?
Christmas time 2007, [my daughter] Hannah (2nd year livestock science student at UNE in Armidale, keen horsewoman, rodeo and campdraft competitor), aged 19 was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. This was mind numbing, as in our world this disease had never been linked to a young, healthy person. However, exactly a year later after three recurrences, Hannah lost her precious life to melanoma at Christmas 2008. This tragedy was turned to triumph, when I committed to creating a research fund in Hannah’s memory.
What is the Hannah Rose Melanoma Research Fund, and what is its aim?
The Hannah Rose Melanoma Research Fund raises funds to target adolescent and young adult melanoma research, improve treatments and find a cure. The platform I created to do this is Ride4acure; I kicked this off in May 2009. I set about planning my first big trek riding my pushbike 1,680 km from Kempsey to Melbourne.
A couple of key things that put a fire in my belly and energise me daily to continue to work hard to raise the profile of melanoma is finding out that it’s the most prevalent cancer that young people in Australia get, representing 21% of all cancer in 15 – 25 year olds. Also, that as many people die from melanoma each year as the number who die on our roads nationally. And as my community awareness work began, I realised that most people in rural and regional areas had very little knowledge of skin cancer and melanoma and what to do to prevent it.
The good news is that in 90% of cases, it can be prevented when people take the right measures: applying sunscreen every day when the UV’s above 2 (all year here on the Mid North Coast, and of course UV is not about sunlight; it can be extreme in cloudy, wet weather), wearing hats, sunnies, covering up with clothes and seeking shade. Schools can have a big impact by scheduling sports events first thing in the morning, not in the heat of the day, and providing plenty of shade for students.
The key thing for young people is that 80% of skin cell damage happens in the first 18 years of life and is irreversible. It is critical that parents, schools and kids themselves get this right and protect themselves outdoors.
You have some amazing stories to share about the ways you’ve raised money for the fund …
In three years I have undertaken three long distance treks for Ride4acure. As I mentioned, in 2009 I rode my push bike from Kempsey to Melbourne, 1,680 km over 47 days. Then in 2010, I rode 3 horses (1 saddle horse, 2 pack horses) solo with no support truck, 1,860 km over 86 days from Kempsey to Melbourne inland.
In 2011, my daughter, Esther Kuxford-Matthews, aged 20, rode three horses 4,700 km over 97 days, Coast2Coast from Crescent Head to Perth (with me and 13 year old brother Joe as support crew/strappers). This was an incredible experience, traversing four states and some of the most amazing country. Esther kept her focus riding this incredible distance by riding 4,700 km ‘one white post at a time’.
We struck all kinds of rough weather. We had, going on past rainfall patterns, hoped it’d remain dry when we went through SA and WA; however, it started raining when we left NSW – and kept going all the way to Kalgoorlie. This, of course, brought some fairly unique issues for us: boggy ground, not bogging the truck in WA sticky, red mud; wet gear, horse and human; leaking roof on the truck into the living area (nothing Joe couldn’t fix with a couple of tubes of silastic!) Discomfort and less than favourable conditions aside, Esther kept mounting up each day, and we all kept putting one foot in front of the other and kept in mind the reason Esther was riding; we were doing this together as a family.
These three treks have seen me visit over 120 schools in NSW and VIC, speaking with over 22,000 students and hundreds of communities. In each school I have shared my youth friendly multimedia presentation I created called Mela-What?
What does Mela-What? aim to teach/share with the public?
In the year Hannah lived with melanoma, she had two hopes: to raise money to support the research of her doctor, Assoc. Prof. Grant McArthur from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; and to tell all her friends to look after their skin and be proactive in preventing skin cancer and melanoma. After Hannah died, I picked up the ball for her and began facilitating skin cancer/melanoma awareness in schools and communities. I have diligently researched this disease, and from that work created my multimedia presentation I called Mela-What?
I am currently working on a project to bring Mela-What? online, for schools to access resources, encourage their students to be a SunSmart Warrior and also to bust a few myths about skin cancer and young Australians.
How successful do you feel you have been in raising awareness of melanoma?
Fundraising has included a variety of avenues, including four dinner dances/auctions, two cattle sales, one ram sale, fat lamb sale, shave4acure at a local high school and also by my son Joe at our last dinner dance, Sept 2010.
I’ve also branded thousands of items of merchandise and sold them: pens, wristbands, T-shirts, western shirts, vests, hats and stickers. To date, we have raised over $108,000 for the Hannah Rose Melanoma Research Fund. Many thousands of dollars of resources have been donated by sponsors to enable us to undertake the three treks, without which I would never have been able to leave Kempsey!
What’s next on the agenda for Ride4acure?
2012 will see me creating more educational resources for schools, networking Australia wide and worldwide with other melanoma foundations, research centres and individuals who are working tirelessly to raise the profile of melanoma.
Where can people find out more information about Ride4acure and the Hannah Rose Melanoma Research Fund?
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 77 of Port Macquarie Focus