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Julie-Ann Rhodes 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.

In 2019, Julie-Ann hosted a National Patio Day celebration in memory of her husband Trevor, who cherished quiet time under his patio, and to give back to all those Australian families who have been touched by cancer.

In 2020, she’s committed to keep the tradition going.

Julie-Ann’s story 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.

In 2014, Julie-Ann and her husband Trevor were faced with the heartbreak of a cancer diagnosis again when their daughter Marissa was diagnosed with bile duct cancer.

“Marissa ’s treatment was slightly different. The surgeons were hoping that they would be able to do a liver resection, however when they opened her up, they discovered that her tumour was too large. That was an incredibly hard day for Trevor and me. We left the hospital, only to get a call an hour later from the surgeon. The operation was meant to take 10 hours, so we knew it was bad news,” she said.

“The only option that was left for Marissa at that stage was palliative chemotherapy. We were incredibly fortunate at the time that Marissa had a boyfriend who wanted to raise funds to help her do some of the things she always wanted to do in her final weeks and months. Marissa ’s wishlist was born and we were able to have a fantastic family trip to Queensland, swim with the dolphins and go to an Ed Sheeran concert.”

“It’s those precious, beautiful memories that I’m now left with, which wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of others. It’s something that drives me to give back to this day,” she said.

Marissa lost her life in 2015, at just 20 years of age. Three years later, Julie-Ann’s husband Trevor was diagnosed Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

“Marissa’s passing was incredibly hard on him and I think in some ways the stress allowed the cancer to gain a foothold,” she said.

Julie-Ann and Trevor downsized to a smaller place while he was going through treatment, with 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 says 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 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. She hopes to be able to host a similar event again this year if COVID restrictions allow, even if it’s a smaller gathering.

“Everyone who came said how much they enjoyed it and hoped I can make it an annual event. Even it’s a bit different to last year, I still hope to be able to host in some capacity, even its smaller groups staggered throughout the day. I’m committed to keeping the tradition going.”

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.