9 January 2024

Life beyond cancer: Canberra mum becomes a voice for Camp Quality families

| Katrina Condie
Start the conversation
woman with mascot

Canberra mum Jess Kercher is a member of Camp Quality’s new Family Advisory Committee. Photo: Jess Kercher.

As a young mum living in Canberra, Jess Kercher’s life was turned upside down 14 years ago when her then-two-year-old daughter Jade was diagnosed with stage-two hepatoblastoma, a childhood liver cancer.

After 11 months of chemotherapy and surgeries at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and years of tests and monitoring, Jade is now 16 and in remission, but her mum’s special connection with kids’ cancer charity Camp Quality is far from over.

Jess now sits on the new Family Advisory Committee of the organisation that helped her get through some of the toughest years of her life, and that still brings a smile to her precious daughter’s face.

“I was 21 years old and had uprooted my life to be with my daughter at the hospital in Sydney,” she said.

”I was in survival mode and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

“I was unaware of Camp Quality’s services at first and, at the time, didn’t really think we needed it. However, to see the look on Jade’s face when Giggle, their mascot, popped his head into the oncology ward was a moment I’ll never forget.”

Jess said being on the advisory committee gave her an opportunity to give something back to the organisation that had helped her and Jade so much, and to ensure other families received the best service and support possible during every stage of their cancer journey.

“I want to help families that have been torn apart by cancer, and just to see smiles on kids’ faces,” she said.

READ ALSO Vinnies predicts generosity will prevail this festive season over increasing pressure on relief services

“When the opportunity came up to be part of the advisory committee, it gave me a chance to help provide support to the Camp Quality team, and to help guide and shape the future of their services and programs.

“I’m one of six or seven parents and we’ve all had different journeys, but ultimately our role is to be a voice for the thousands of families that are involved or registered with Camp Quality. And to ensure the transition beyond graduation doesn’t just end.

“It’s so important to continue to support bereaved families, and we now offer support for children whose parents have cancer. For a child whose parents are going through diagnosis, it’s so important for them to be able to escape and have time to just be a kid.”

Camp Quality CEO Deborah Thomas said members of the Family Advisory Committee “know exactly how challenging and traumatic a cancer diagnosis can be”.

“By attending Camp Quality programs and services and throughout treatment, they have the opportunity to take a break from cancer, have fun and create positive memories together as a family,” she said.

Parents or carers of a child who has undergone cancer treatment are uniquely positioned to advise on how best to support others facing the same experience.

“They know what type of support they need,” Deborah said. ”It’s also extremely helpful to have families that Camp Quality can share new ideas with for feedback and to make sure we continue to innovate our programs and services.”

three kids at Camp Quality

Jade with two of her younger sisters at Camp Quality. Photo: Jess Kercher.

Jade’s illness came on suddenly and, with severe respiratory problems, the doctors in Canberra’s paediatric ward initially thought she had pneumonia. It was during surgery that they discovered a tumour the size of a grapefruit, with secondary cancers in her lungs and and diaphragm.

The toddler was airlifted to The Children’s Hospital Westmead, where she spent 11 days in intensive care on life support while her first round of chemotherapy was administered.

When she moved out of the intensive care unit into the oncology ward, little Jade was kept entertained by the Camp Quality team with puppets, games and shows. When she got older she made lifelong friends at camps.

“Jade wasn’t eligible to go on camps initially because of her age, but Camp Quality kept in touch and we did family things before she finally went on a camp – and loved it,” Jess said.

READ ALSO ‘So many memories’: Parliament House cleaner finishes last shift after 35 years

“We’ve been to a magic show at The Q, a snow day at Corin Forest, and Christmas parties, which are a great way to meet other children and interact with other families in the same situation.

“Jade did the graduation camp two years ago and got to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was amazing.

“Camp Quality is like a family and, unfortunately, we have all travelled the same road in some shape or form, so there’s a level of empathy and understanding that people don’t understand unless they’ve been there.

“We’re still in touch with people we’ve met over the years. They do become lifelong friends and part of the family, really.”

Over the years, Jess has continued to give back to Camp Quality by helping out with the Giggle Ball for three years before COVID-19, and worked as a regional fundraising coordinator. She hopes the ball will make a comeback in 2024.

Jade is about to enter year 12 and is completing a school-based apprenticeship in childcare. She wants to become a teacher and is also keen to be a Camp Quality camp volunteer once she turns 18. With five younger sisters, her mum said she was perfectly suited to the job.

You can support Camp Quality and help kids and families build optimism and resilience towards their cancer experience – through community, education, and a huge dose of fun!

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.