Kathie Potts and Rachel Fishlock have been named the winners of Lifeline’s Women of Spirit Awards.
Since 2006, the Awards have recognised women who have triumphed over personal adversity and gone on to make a positive contribution to the community while inspiring others to do the same.
Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson thanked all finalists for sharing their strength and stories and declared the awards a celebration of them and women like them, who will leave this world “in better shape” than they found it.
“Women of spirit are often hidden in our community, quietly working away and giving their time to lift-up others and support vital causes,” she said.
A passionate advocate for raising awareness of DIPG, a deadly form of brain cancer, Kathie Potts took the Women of Spirit Award.
Despite her family’s best efforts, Kathie’s daughter Annabelle died at age five following her battle with the disease.
Tapping into her lived experience, Kathie has helped provide practical support to the thousands of Australians diagnosed with rare cancers each year.
Before her passing, Kathie and Annabelle went viral with The Lemon Face Challenge to raise DIPG awareness, attracting participation from The Wiggles, sports stars and TV hosts.
After two years of Kathie’s lobbying efforts, on the anniversary of Annabelle’s death, the Federal Health Minister’s Office announced funding for two DIPG research proposals.
Her other fundraising efforts have assisted the Isabella and Marcus Foundation, which works closely with researchers in Australia to develop treatments for children with brain cancer, focusing on DIPG. A PhD scholarship to continue developing new treatments has also been named in Annabelle’s honour.
Kathie has used her Love for Annabelle Facebook page to raise awareness for fundraisers, other children who’ve lost their battles and occasions like Brain Cancer Awareness Month and DIPG Awareness Day.
Among numerous other achievements in the space, Kathie also supported her six-year-old son William in achieving his goal of climbing to the top of Mt Kosciuszko to honour Annabelle. He’s raised $10,462 for Rare Cancers Australia.
Kathie’s passion and advocacy efforts continue today, supported by her loved ones.
“I feel very strongly we need to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves, particularly vulnerable members of our community such as children,” she said.
“I didn’t know that brain cancer impacted children so much until Annabella was diagnosed. I do want to raise awareness of that and I do hope that one day no parent will be told your child has brain cancer and there’s nothing we can do.
“I couldn’t do anything without the amazing support behind me – my mum who is looking after my toddler today, my husband who is always there to step in and be the calm one when I’m trying to make change. He keeps me grounded and keeps our entire family grounded. My gorgeous children who help me get out of bed every day.”
Assessed on the same criteria as the Women of Spirit Award but focusing on women who have only recently overcome adversity and have just commenced their outstanding community work, the Rising Women of Spirit Award went to Yuin woman Rachel Fishlock.
At age 12, Rachel became a full-time carer for her single mum, who had severe mental health complications.
Though she experienced systemic neglect as a child during her mother’s frequent and prolonged hospitalisations and was isolated from family, school and community due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, Rachel was determined to complete high school.
In years 11 and 12, she had an 11 per cent attendance rate but completed all assignments to receive her HSC.
Rachel went on to complete a degree in social sciences to focus on social policy and a Masters of Business Management.
Realising she could most effectively help people by studying to affect systemic change in government policy, she is now working as a project and policy officer at Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit), the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB), mental health and suicide prevention.
Rachel continues to push for policy reforms to ensure other child carers do not experience the neglect that she did.
“This is first time outside my area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention that I’ve spoken about my work. Usually, I’m communicating within the sector to people who have experienced similar things,” she said.
“I’m working with the coalition of peaks to lead their social and emotional wellbeing partnership. We’ve demonstrated there is inequity, but we are very strong in what we have to say and the changes we want to make.”
The other Spirit of Women finalists were Adele Fa’Aeteete, Belinda Barnier, Cassandra Bennett, Dr Susan Boden, Serina Bird, Melita Flynn, Hilary Wardhaugh, Elizabeth Coleman and Kathie Potts and the other Rising Women of Spirit Award finalists were Heidi Prowse, Jessika Spencer and Robyn Smith.
The awards were sponsored by Icon Water, Viva Leisure and the Canberra Outlet Centre.