Unsung Heroes: Daughter's cancer fight inspires bread run

By Phoebe Falconer

Pat Wilkes. Photo / Dean Purcell
Pat Wilkes. Photo / Dean Purcell

Few things can be worse than hearing that your 2-year-old daughter has an inoperable brain tumour.

Pat and Kathie Wilkes did what they had to do - sat with Eilish through countless hours of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, supported each other and their two grown children, and got on with life.

Eilish, now 13, is battling on. Her tumour shrinks and then grows again, but she is being home-schooled, and is particularly keen on her singing lessons every Saturday.

And Mr Wilkes now uses his experience to help other children with cancer and provide support for their families, through the Child Cancer Foundation.

One such family was that of Tracy and Andy Cratchley, who had a child with cancer.

Mrs Cratchley has nominated Mr Wilkes for the Herald unsung heroes series, which recognises the work people do in their communities.

Five nominees will be chosen to go on a P&O cruise.

Mr Wilkes has been chairman of the Auckland regional committee of CCF for three years. He serves on the national board, but he particularly enjoys taking part in the CCF scholarship system.

Children with cancer often fall behind at school and may develop difficulties with their vision.

A scholarship can help the family provide some assistance specific to the child to improve their life experience, which is why young Eilish is receiving singing lessons.

Every Tuesday evening, Mr Wilkes and his son Dan go to Browns Bay to collect surplus bread from a bakery. They parcel it up and deliver it to families in need, with any leftovers going to the oncology ward at Starship hospital.

While sick children are fed in hospital, their families are not, and it is not always easy to organise a meal from a bedside, or to find something to entice a sick child to eat.

"Oncology nurses have told me that if a sick child, on chemotherapy for example, can be tempted by a sticky bun or a sweet cake, that is great," says Mr Wilkes. "Anything they can keep down is food."

Mr Wilkes works for a company that makes quilting for mattress tops. With his contacts in the industry, and the help of local carrying companies, he supplied new, good-quality beds to more than 200 children within his first two years of involvement with CCF.

"Treatment for cancer can be destructive to the immune system, so these kids need a clean bed with no bugs," says Mr Wilkes.

More than 150 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in New Zealand, and the cost to the family can be enormous, both emotionally and financially. Parents may have to give up time at work, and there are often drugs to be paid for.

"But even if I lost my job, I'd still do the bread run," says Mr Wilkes. "That's the real hands-on stuff that helps."

- NZ Herald

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