A wave of emotion surged through the audience when cancer survivor Sue McMillan pulled out two $50 notes to complete the Peter’s Project cancer centre appeal yesterday.
Her cash not only took the appeal to its $5 million target three months ahead of schedule, it also realised a dream five years earlier by Peter Jellie as he battled cancer in Warrnambool Base Hospital, where Ms McMillan comforted him in her pastoral care role.
After Mr Jellie’s death, his widow Vicki spearheaded the formation of a committee to push for establishment of a dedicated treatment centre in Warrnambool so south-west residents would not have to travel Geelong, Ballarat or Melbourne for specialist procedures.
Ms McMillan herself journeyed many times to Geelong for treatment while she had a young family.
“Peter’s spirit is very palpable in the room today,” she said at yesterday’s official announcement of the $5m community fund-raising achievement, which will go towards a proposed $30m radiotherapy centre expected to be under construction by next year, bolstered by $15m from state government and $10m from Canberra.
“I’m sure he’d be pleased she had the courage to bring that dream to reality.”
Ms McMillan’s donation also kickstarted the Peter’s Project Foundation which will be an ongoing source of revenue to support patients in the proposed cancer centre and assist staff with resources and training.
The appeal target was given a huge boost yesterday when Devondale Murray Goulburn dairying company donated $300,000, the largest corporate contribution since the appeal started nine months ago.
“People have been touched by cancer in this region and this donation is to support the community that supports us,” managing director Gary Helou said.
Ms Jellie was given numerous accolades for her determined leadership along with appeal chairman Peter Headen and other members of the committee, of which Premier Denis Napthine was an inaugural member in his role as local MP.
“It’s from the heart, that’s what this has been all about,” Ms Jellie said.
“What started as a dream five years ago has happened.
“We reached our target three months earlier than target because of the community believing in our cause.
“The foundation will never ask anyone to help raise $5m again, but the community has indicated it will continue to support us.”
Dr Napthine quivered with emotion as he acknowledged community effort and the cancer patients who travelled hundreds of kilometres from home for cancer treatment. He also revealed battles to convince health bureaucrats in Melbourne the region needed better facilities, despite population statistics showing otherwise.
“I told them I guarantee south-west Victoria will raise their share of the money and in the end we did,” he said.
“It is the passion of the community.
“I guarantee we will deliver the service.”
Dr Napthine said approval for an ambulance helicopter several years ago and the cancer centre funding were two of his most satisfying achievements as a local member.
His federal Liberal counterpart Dan Tehan, local member for Wannon, also shared the internal battles with Canberra bureaucrats who doubted community resolve.