CASSANDRA BENNETT (June 3, 1980 - May 27, 2023)
When Cassandra Bennett received a brain cancer diagnosis in 2018, she was a wife and mother of two young children, pursuing a successful corporate career as an accountant.
The challenges of surgery and chemotherapy were met with the same drive with which Cass had achieved success as a young Australian on a rowing scholarship at Northeastern University (US) and in her busy professional life.
However, the "uninvited squatter" as Cass described her tumour and her treatment eventually led her to accept her new role of patient. Like all the roles she had previously taken up, this was a new challenge and one for which she will be long remembered and honoured.
Initially Cass, together with her family and friends, actively engaged in fundraising events to support brain cancer research. This included participating in the Walk4Cancer, running the City2Surf in Sydney and the Point to Pinnacle in Hobart to raise money for Carrie Bickmore's Beanies for Brain Cancer. In July 2022, Cass completed the Mark Hughes Foundation's Big Three Trek with a 150km walk from Sydney to Newcastle, notwithstanding compromised mobility and balance as a result of radiation treatment.
Raising funds was purposeful, and Cass acknowledged investment in research would ultimately improve the prognosis for brain cancer patients.
However, she was keen to help people living with the disease and their families in a more direct way, without diverting funds from research.
With the help of her friend Ana Toth and advice and guidance from Care2Cure on the medical content, Cass developed The Survivorship Diary, a resource to help patients and their families manage their various stages of treatment and care.
Family rallied to ensure there was generous funding available to support Cass's mission. The diary provides a short summary of the various stages of treatment, questions to ask the medical team, checklists for finance and insurance details, and special pockets to hold prescriptions, referrals and imaging orders.
Drawing on Cass's own experience that there was still a life to be lived, a family to be loved, children to be raised and a community to be part of, The Survivorship Diary is both a practical tool and a guide to navigating a new and different future.
In an article Cass contributed to Brain Tumour Alliance Australia's magazine, she noted "the challenge of managing the diagnosis is more than just treatments and therapies. It is about finding a way to live a life that is directed both because of the disease, and in spite of it".
Launched at Parliament House in May 2021 by The Brain Cancer Group, for whom Cass was an ambassador, The Survivorship Diary is available free of charge through patient organisations including The Brain Cancer Group, Care2Cure, Peace of Mind, and online at survivorshipdiary.com.
In addition to her work in developing The Survivorship Diary, Cass also contributed to brain cancer research as a consumer representative on the board of the Cooperative Trials Group for Neuro-Oncology as a member of their consumer advisory panel. In this role, she reviewed research protocols to ensure they addressed issues which matter to people living with brain cancer, and attended Annual Scientific meetings.
Associate Professor Eng Siew Koh, chair of COGNO, said of Cassandra: "She made such a significant impact and positive contribution to the brain cancer community, both locally, nationally and beyond. She was an absolute shining light, her courage and determination being so evident even in the face of her own brain cancer journey."
Cass reviewed palliative care trials for the Cancer Symptom Trials Group, and was a supporter of the University of Canberra's Cancer Wellness Centre. She wrote a foreword for Associate Professor Melanie Lovell et al's Cancer Pain Book and spoke at its launch, acknowledging "learning to manage (pain) in a nuanced and personalised way can benefit both people with cancer pain and their families".
Cass contributed her professional accounting skills as a member of the Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association (AHHA) Audit, Finance and Risk Committee, and was a consumer representative on the advisory group of the Australian Centre for Value-Based Health Care.
In that role, her contribution was described by AHHA chief executive Kylie Woolcock as being "so important in centring the conversations of health system leaders on the realities experienced by people interacting with the health system and what matters during their care".
Cass's many contributions as a community leader, activist and volunteer were celebrated when she was a finalist in Lifeline ACT's 2022 Women of Spirit awards. At her funeral in Canberra on June 6, there were many accolades from family and friends, the clinicians who had supported her care during her illness, and the not-for-profit organisations to whom she contributed her time and experience so generously.
Cass was a devoted mother to her sons, James and Julian, and volunteered until the last few months of her life with the Marist College junior cricket team and in the canteen at Chapman Primary School. She rejoiced in the love and support of her husband Daniel who was by her side throughout her treatment and her many fundraising activities and adventures.
Cassandra Bennett is sadly missed by her husband, Daniel, sons James and Julian, parents Judy Taylor and Lawson Brown, sister Julia Pooley, her extended family, and many friends and colleagues.