Carolyn Riordan and Penni Ellis, NSW
16 January 2020
When our Dad, Peter Hewett, was working for the Forest Department and part of the planning team for the original development of a long-distance walk trail in WA, Carolyn and I were in high school, then living in Japan and Canberra. Like most teenagers, we kind of knew what Dad did, but only really came to appreciate the role he played in the early development of the Bibbulmun Track as we got older and started our own families.
We have always wanted to walk the Track but with young families, work and all the other reasons that you don’t do things, we just hadn’t made the time to do it.
Then in May 2018 Carolyn was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Any cancer diagnosis is a shock, but for someone who has never smoked, this seemed quite unbelievable. The five-year survival rate for people with her type of lung cancer is only 17%. Not one to simply accept a diagnosis like this, Carolyn started researching. She discovered that anyone can get lung cancer. One Australian dies every hour from lung cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death in Australia; more than breast, prostate and ovarian cancers combined. Carolyn also discovered that lung cancer is one of the most poorly funded cancer research programs in Australia. This is due largely to the stigma associated with smoking —the premise that if you smoke, you deserve to get lung cancer. She decided to become an advocate for Lung Foundation Australia and do something about these dreadful statistics.
Carolyn also decided to bring forward our Bibbulmun Track walk and use it in the hope of changing the way Australians think about lung cancer, as well as to fundraise for money to go into lung cancer research. As we had always talked about doing it, that meant I was also in for the trek! Our walk is also about honouring our Dad and his legacy.
We started out in Albany (my home town) on 13 April with Carolyn’s daughter Courtney, school friend Keren and other friends walking with us. Keren completed the entire first stage from Albany to Northcliffe with us and was a fantastic walking buddy. Many other friends and family have walked different sections, lent us gear, provided food and fitted in with our time frames.
Walking long distances, especially with elevation, is not an easy feat for someone with a partially collapsed lung but we got to Northcliffe in 19 days covering 352km. We learnt a lot about efficient walking, saw some incredible coastal country and tingle forests and were well supported by all three husbands along different sections of the Track.
Stage 2 commenced on 16 June, earlier than planned to fit around Carolyn’s treatment, and finished on 10 July— some 481km and 26 days later with no break! Again Carolyn’s friends and family were incredible, flying over from Sydney to walk with and support her (and me) off track. She sets a cracking pace on the flat and downhill so I’m quite happy for a few hills to be able to catch her! We camped for four nights during this stage, as there are less access points between campsites, so Carolyn’s husband Bernie (support person extraordinaire) couldn’t pick us up.
The final stage will commence after the next round of treatment. We hope to finish the #ihavelungs walk with a mostly family celebration at Hewett’s Hill, and an event with the Lung Foundation Australia and Bibbulmun Track Foundation in Kalamunda.
It has been a wonderful, challenging, special journey. We have been humbled by the support of family and friends. We hope we’ve done Dad proud.
You can still donate to Carolyn’s fundraising to support lung cancer research at: https://lungfoundation.grassrootz.com/shine-a-light-on-lung-cancer/bibbulmun-track-ihavelungs-walk