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The Stockland CARE Foundation and our partners are sharing stories and advice on mental health as part of Mental Health Month this October. This week is also National Carers Week, so we wanted to share the story of a Redkite parent and how the power of connection has helped him during a very challenging time.

A dad’s first Father’s Day should be a happy milestone in a year of firsts with a new child. But for Tasmanian dad, Oliver, he never got to celebrate it properly. His wife, Holly and their newborn daughter, Ava, were thousands of kilometres away from home in a Melbourne hospital.  

Ava was born just before Father’s Day in August 2019. Only days later, she was rushed to intensive care in Melbourne where she was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of leukaemia 

What was supposed to be his first Father’s Day with his child ended up being the start of his little girl’s cancer journey and eight months of her being far from home.  

"My wife and I were still both holding out hope and not really knowing what the next step was. When we got the results, it felt like a kick in the stomach. I remember Holly with tears in her eyes turning to me and saying: ‘It wasn’t meant to be this way. I want to bring my little girl home."  ​

For fathers like Oliver, their child’s cancer diagnosis can be incredibly isolating; they are often separated from their families, as they hold everything together at home. When Oliver eventually made it to Melbourne, he couldn’t stay in hospital with Holly and Ava, deepening his sense of isolation.  ​

One of Redkite’s hospital-based social workers introduced Oliver to Redkite’s Dads Connect Group. The group brought fathers together to share their stories and experiences and gave him a confidential outlet to express his emotions with other men going through a similar experience.  ​

"Being able to communicate with other dads gives you an opportunity to say: ‘What are you guys doing about this?’ or ‘Has this happened to you?"

One of Ava’s first milestones, her smile, came during her first round of chemotherapy, at six-weeks-old.  ​

"I’ll never forget that moment. I think it was just her way of saying to us: ‘It’s OK, mum and dad. It’s going to be OK. I’m alright. I’m still happy."  ​

It was difficult to experience his first months of fatherhood in hospital, but the men in the Dads Connect Group helped Oliver feel less alone.  ​

"You don’t feel like you have to be strong because we’re all there to support each other. Opening up the conversation provides an outlet for fathers who might not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions in front of their loved ones, but they’re happy to share their story with us."  ​

Every father’s experience of their child’s cancer is different, but through the Dads Connect Group we can make sure fathers like Oliver don’t have to navigate their family’s cancer journey on their own.  ​

Thanks to the generous support of organisations like Stockland, Redkite can provide support to children with cancer  and their families all over the country, every day.​

You can learn more about Redkite and how they are helping children with cancer and their families at Redkite.org.au