24 March 2023

'Not ready to go yet': Leukaemia miracle inspires Can Assist fundraiser

| Oliver Jacques
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Old couple standing with arms together

Karen French and Ugo Fattore keep defying predictions. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith’s Ugo Fattore and his partner Karen French were hit by their own personal tragedy the same day two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

“That morning we woke up, the TV was blaring, saying, ‘The world has changed’ … moments after the minute’s silence for the world, we got an urgent phone call … we found out Ugo had leukaemia. Our world also turned upside down that day, it was surreal,” Ms French said.

On 11 September 2001, doctors told Mr Fattore he had just eight years to live.

“But here I am, 21 years later – I was 48 when diagnosed and have just turned 70,” he said.

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In defying predictions, the couple are grateful for the support of Griffith’s Can Assist, a charity who pay for flights, petrol and accommodation costs for rural cancer sufferers who need to travel to big cities for lifesaving treatment.

“We were lucky to have Olga [Forner from Can Assist], they have looked after us whenever we’ve needed them for the past 16 years. They looked after us in 2006 when I was allergic to a chemo drug. We ended up in Sydney for six weeks. Can Assist paid for the airfares and the accommodation,” Mr Fattore said.

Ms French added: “Last November he got airlifted to Sydney and Can Assist helped again. Without them, Ugo would’ve been in hospital all alone.”

On Friday 24 March, the couple joined others in sharing their cancer stories on the Triple M radio station, as part of a big push to raise $10,000 for the local charity.

Radio presenter Glenn Starr is behind the initiative.

“A year ago we released the Song That Griffith Built, which was to raise money for a local charity,” he said. “We chose Can Assist and cancer care accommodation. Before I leave the station, I want to reach my target of raising $10,000. On Friday, we are going to do one big push to raise as much money as we possibly can. In the morning we will be sharing cancer stories and directing people to our website, from there they can click on the GoFundMe link and make a donation.

“The stories we will share can inspire people to donate and see the incredible work of Can Assist; the only way we can have a service like that is to support it.”

Glenn Starr and Sussan Ley in wigs singing

Glenn Starr with Sussan ‘Tina Turner’ Ley, raising money for cancer. Photo: Sussan Ley MP/Facebook.

Mr Starr is motivated by his own personal experience.

“Eleven years ago, I lost my mum to cancer. She was diagnosed and gone within 14 days. It was very severe cancer. I want to help anyone who has to go through what we went through.”

He also believes Mr Fattore is a perfect case study for the cause.

“Ugo is a motivator. People who have been diagnosed with leukaemia have rung him because he’s so positive,” Ms French said.

“Medical technology has changed so much in 21 years. He’s on a tablet chemo now for two years, which has 87 per cent remission. It’s only been around for 18 months and has been very successful for older people … we’ve lost too many friends who just give up when diagnosed with cancer.

“The day we got home from Sydney [after treatment], I took him out to Giuseppe’s for lunch, a whole heap of priests started turning up – I said, ‘Ugo, someone is on your side’.”

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Mr Fattore once looked as if he wouldn’t see his grandchildren but is now poised to meet his great grandkids.

“Six years ago, I flew over to the UK for my son’s wedding … I’m not ready to go yet.”

Donations to Friday’s fundraiser can be made via The Song That Griffith Built’s Go Fund Me page.

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