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This year, Julie-Ann Rhodes has teamed up with her workplace to host a lunch for staff, residents and visitors for Stratco National Patio Day to raise funds for a cause close to her heart. On Wednesday 2 December, Julie-Ann’s colleagues are organising lunch, games, raffles and face masks so that staff, residents and visitors to Star of the Sea Aged Care Residence in Torquay can come together, celebrate and raise money for Cancer Council—all while maintaining social distance!

For Julie-Ann, the lunch means more than an excuse to get together and celebrate the start of summer (as well as the easing of COVID restrictions), it’s about being able to raise funds to support Australians impacted by cancer in honour of the loved ones she’s lost to it over the years.

Sadly, Julie-Ann has felt the cruelty of a cancer diagnosis more times than anyone should. The 55-year-old from Lara near Geelong saw her son survive Leukaemia, lost her daughter to bile duct cancer, her husband to Leukaemia and her dad to melanoma.

Her family’s first experience with cancer started in 2003, when her then 12-year-old son Peter was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Peter underwent chemotherapy and entered remission. He’s now 29 and has been cancer free ever since.

Just a year later, Julie-Ann and her husband Trevor were faced with heartbreak again when their daughter Marissa was diagnosed with bile duct cancer and passed away in 2015, at just 20 years of age. Then, three years later, Julie-Ann’s husband Trevor was diagnosed Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

During Trevor’s treatment, the couple downsized to a smaller place and a new patio first on the wish list for their new house.

“Trevor just loved sitting under the pergola in our old house, so I wanted to create that same oasis for him in our new place. After getting a couple of quotes, we ended up going with a Stratco Patio,” she said.

Sadly, Trevor passed away in May last year. While he didn’t get a chance to see the finished patio, Julie-Ann said it’s very much a tribute to him and his memory.

“We’ve named it Trevor’s Tranquil Place. We have a waterfall out the back and a garden to one side called Marissa’s Garden, planted with roses given to me when she passed away. It’s just so peaceful, I often sit out there and think of Trevor and Marissa,” she said.

When Julie-Ann saw an advertisement for Stratco National Patio Day in 2019, she decided to do the fundraiser in Trevor’s memory.

“I just thought—‘it’s meant to be’. One of the things that always stuck with me when Marissa was sick was how generous people were, often people we didn’t even know. I thought if I could pay it forward, it could be such a powerful gift for another family like ours,” she said.

Julie-Ann had more than 25 guests at her National Patio Day celebration last year, with her son cooking and guests coming and going throughout the day.

“It was the first time we hosted people under our patio, and it was a beautiful sunny day, perfect weather really. I think that Trevor was definitely looking out for us.”

She raised more than $1,800 through her event, triple her goal of $600. Now, this year with the support of her colleagues, she is getting her whole workplace involved to support the good cause and honour Marissa and Trevor.

“Everyone who came to our event last year said how much they enjoyed it and hoped I can make it an annual event. It’s a bit different to last year, but I’m committed to keeping the tradition going.”

For this year’s event, Julie-Ann and her colleagues will run a lunch for $10 per person and organise a series of games including ‘pin the mic on Dennis’ for a gold coin donation and Lucky Squares for a $5 donation. They also plan to hold a raffle and sell handmade face masks, with all proceeds going to Cancer Council.

Even though her family has faced so many challenges, Julie-Ann’s positivity and passion to give back shines through.

“I think that my outlook is still really positive. Even though we faced our challenges, I was still blessed with a beautiful daughter for 20 years and a loving husband for 31 years, which is more than so many people have,” she said.

“I know that they would be incredibly proud to know that through sharing their story, I am raising funds to help others.”

Held on Saturday 5 December, Stratco National Patio Day is a chance to celebrate the first Saturday of summer under the shade of your favourite patio with family, friends, and loved ones while also raising vital funds for Cancer Council.

In 2020, National Patio Day hopes to raise $330,000, which will fund Cancer Council programs and services across the country. For more information or to register, visit the National Patio Day website or call 1300 65 65 85 to receive your free National Patio Day host kit.