Faces of Caregiving – Australia
Cassie was a young mum when her first son Matthew was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at just four weeks old — her career as a Human Resources Professional in the State Government was blossoming and she was due to return to work as the main income provider at home, however everything changed overnight, following his diagnosis.
She was thrust into caring for a child with complex needs, despite not even knowing what Cystic Fibrosis was.
“I returned to work six months after Matthew was born, however I had to take a step back from my leadership role as I was no longer able to commit the time needed to be successful and effective.”
Cassie gave birth to her second son Joshua 18 months later and began studying Complimentary and Natural Medicine in order to better understand the human body and help her adequately advocate for her son.
As Matthew’s needs grew, the pressure of studying and looking after two young boys on her own started to take its toll. Her relationship broke down and in the wake of all this, Cassie found her own physical and mental health were also impacted. Loathed to ask for help and not recognising she was in fact a caregiver, Cassie felt alone, isolated and lost hope.
“I was admitted to hospital for a major procedure, because I was in such poor mental and physical shape, my recovery was long and difficult. I knew it was time to make a change.”
Cassie started to take control of her life, looking after her mental and physical health. As time went on, she noticed that when she was ‘better’ her young children were also ‘better’, happier and healthier.
During her recovery, her son Matthew fell five metres from a tree and suffered a severe brain injury and fractured his spine as a result. During his long rehabilitation, she resigned from her secure employment, commenced study in Fitness and Personal Training and then started a new career and set up business as a personal trainer which provided her the flexibility she needed with Matthew’s care.
A few years in and his health continued to fluctuate, and Cassie’s commitment to caring for her son meant she sadly had to end her new business. As well as ongoing physical health a challenge, Matthew has been diagnosed with high needs Autism and severe Social Anxiety Disorder.
“It took me many years to realise that I was a carer. In my mind, I was a mum doing what she needed to do for her kids; it never crossed my mind that I was a carer.
“It is a challenge to give Matthew the care that he requires, while also making sure my other son Joshua equally has my time and attention as he grows up. Slowly over time I have learned to accept and ask for help and most importantly have recognised that for my kids to get the best of me, I have to prioritise my own health. That means putting me at the top of the list, which is easier said than done.”
Cassie always knew her passion was in helping others. Friends, family and strangers would often look to Cassie for ‘inspiration’, ask for her advice in relation to her caring role, to find out what services were ‘out there’ and to ‘pick her brains’ based on her knowledge and skills in health and wellness.
She thought “how wonderful it would be if people could learn from her tougher times and that she could help them reduce the stress in their lives”. It was around this time when she recognised that she was not alone and that people truly needed to talk to and share experiences with their peers who really ‘get it’, in a flexible and non-threatening environment.
In March 2016 Cassie established The Caregivers Place, an online and community service that provides unique and personal support and education for people living with disability, chronic illness and special needs and their families, right across Australia.
“It is where you find yourself and your voice, where you discover your resilience and feel a depth of love like no other. The appreciation you get when the person you are caring for reaches seemingly ‘small milestones’ is almost indescribable. When you see breakthroughs and success’ for your loved one, because of the advocacy and role you have played, well that there is the greatest reward you could possibly be given.”
“while my caring role and being Matthew’s mum has been incredibly challenging along the way, it has also been so rewarding. You are tested at every corner, emotionally and physically. You never really know what you are capable of until you become someone else’s carer.”