From breast cancer to top fundraiser

Robyn Cameron (centre) at the Gold Coast Mother's Day Classic fun run.

Robyn Cameron CPA has survived two episodes of breast cancer and is now one of Australia’s top fundraisers for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The first time Robyn Cameron CPA was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was just 38, studying an undergraduate degree in accounting at Griffith University on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and raising two young children.

“An ad came on TV prompting women to self-examine their breasts,” she recalls. “I did, and discovered a lump.”

The diagnosis was a huge shock for Cameron, who ran half-marathons and had no family history of the disease. After a lumpectomy, she underwent eight weeks of radiation therapy. 

“I’d get the kids off to school, work on an assignment or go to class, then jump in the car in the afternoon and do a trip to Brisbane [70km away], have my treatment and drive back home,” says Cameron, who is now a senior lecturer at Griffith University’s Business School. 

“The next day would be the same again.”

She ignored her doctor’s advice to take time off her studies, and achieved top results at the end of the semester.

Her second diagnosis came in 2004. She was 46, working full-time and halfway through her PhD. 

“It was a lot scarier,” she says. The chemotherapy was tough, and she had to take time off work and study. Yet once again Cameron recovered, returned to work and, in 2008, submitted her PhD.

After her ordeal, Cameron wanted to do whatever she could to help other women facing breast cancer. She decided to put her energy into raising funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF), an organisation focused on supporting research. 

“I’m not a scientist, but what I could do was fundraise,” she says. “It was because of research undertaken prior to my own breast-cancer diagnosis that I survived. It’s my turn to give back.”

Her first event was a movie night at Griffith University in 2005, where she sold 100 tickets and raised A$2800. She went on to host morning teas at the university, founded the Pink Ribbon Cup Raceday at the Gold Coast Turf Club in 2008, and set up the Gold Coast Mother’s Day Classic fun run in 2009. 

The Pink Ribbon Cup Raceday became so popular, with tickets selling out each year, that Cameron decided to invest her time in growing the event. In 2013, she secured sponsorship for individual races. In 2016, she signed on a local business as an event naming partner. 

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She also moved the event to a larger venue, increasing capacity from 400 to 900 guests. In 2017, it raised more than A$117,000, making it the NBCF’s largest community fundraiser in Australia.

Staging the event is a huge job. Cameron arranges sponsorship and prizes, manages volunteers and media, takes bookings and allocates tables – “one of the hardest jobs”. Two weekends before the big day, she gathers women at her house to wrap prizes and stuff 800 lucky dips in envelopes. 

"I'm not a scientist, but what I could do was fundraise."

“There’s a lot of time that goes into it,” she says, adding that she dealt with “several thousand” emails last year. 

“I’ll be sitting at my computer on the weekend thinking, ‘I wouldn’t mind being at the beach’, then I’ll get an email [from a business owner] saying, ‘Robyn, can I donate something?’” 

Cameron believes having that CPA designation at the end of her signature has helped her fundraising, as donors are confident she will be honest and ethical with any money raised. 

It’s a lot of work, but Cameron says the “amazing” community support keeps her going, as well as the memory of women she knows who have died from cancer. 

“I don’t want any more children to lose their mums, and that thought spurs me on – as I know it does others.” 

National Breast Cancer Foundation

In Australia, it is estimated that 3128 women will die from breast cancer in 2018 – eight women a day. The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has a big goal: achieving zero deaths in Australia from the disease by 2030. 

Since its launch in 1994, NBCF has awarded more than $149 million to support around 489 research projects that will better diagnose, manage and treat breast cancer. In 2017, NBCF funded 30 projects to the value of $12 million, investigating targeted treatment delivery systems, more effective immunotherapies, and predictive tests for relapsing cancer. 

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