THEY say that out of darkness comes light.
After a tumultuous 2015, nobody believes that more strongly than Booragoon parents Peter and Kirsten Symonds.
After discovering a lump in his neck, Mr Symonds was diagnosed with throat cancer at the start of the year.
Shortly after undergoing surgery in February, the company he worked for, Robinson Buildtech, went into liquidation.
If that was not bad enough, what followed would have pushed many families over the edge: Doctor’s found a second cancerous tumour on Mr Symonds pancreas. A family friend was killed in a motorcycle accident. Mr Symonds’ mother suffered a stroke before finally succumbing to a 10-year cancer battle and Mrs Symonds’ father was diagnosed with a cancer of his own.
But through all of that – what the Symonds’ describe as the worst year of their lives – a remarkable community has pulled together to ease the burden on one of their own.
Parents from Brentwood Primary, where the Symonds’ children Lee (9) and Amy (8) attend school, have become regular fixtures around their home.
Leigh Gardiner, a workmate of Mr Symonds and Brentwood Primary parent, organised a complete backyard blitz in March – rounding up more than 20 volunteers to put up a cubby, sort out the shed and chip in with carpentry work and brick paving.
Many of those volunteers came from Robinson Buildtech, despite having all just lost their jobs.
“I got Peter out of the house for the morning so it was a complete surprise for him,” Mrs Symonds said.
“While we were planning it Leigh said to me that he had about 20 people who wanted to get involved so I had better come up with a list of things that needed to be done.
“At this stage everyone had lost their jobs because the company had gone into liquidation and I couldn’t believe all these people still wanted to help.”
Alerted to what was happening by the abundance of cars on their street, the Symonds’ neighbours were soon getting involved as well. Before long they were joined by some other fathers from the school as word began to spread.
“The guy across the street who we didn’t know at all came over and did the edging and mowed the lawn and when we arrived there were girls doing my windows and cleaning the floors.
“When Peter arrived he was completely overwhelmed and we had a barbecue here with everyone – it was an amazing day.”
The outpouring of support did not end there. Homemade ice cream was delivered during Mr Symonds recovery from throat surgery, followed by King Crab and crayfish to celebrate the return of his taste following seven weeks of daily radiation.
When Mr Symonds had surgery for the second cancer in mid-September, parents organised a roster to cook meals and collect and look after the family’s children so that Mrs Symonds could spend as much time with her husband at the hospital as possible.
Most recently, a group of mothers collected and organised second-hand clothes from other parents at the school, selling them on a Saturday morning and using the proceeds to purchase a $1000 Crown casino voucher for the Symonds and one other family that is also battling cancer.
“I’m the kind of person who would never ask for help so to have all these amazing friends that have pitched in has been incredible,” Mrs Symonds said. “It’s fair to say this has been the worst year of our lives but at the same time I can’t believe how wonderful people are and how heart-warming their response has been.
“I don’t know that I can express how much I appreciate what they have they done. It just makes my heart melt and they are all just such amazing people.”
After a successful second operation, Mr Symonds must now wait for a check-up in March to find out whether his cancer has returned. Knowing that he has a community behind him makes the wait a little easier to bear.
“I don’t know how to say it in words; it does just about bring a tear to my eye because it has been tough,” he said. “They don’t think about it as if it’s a big deal; they just think of themselves as mates that want to help out.
“It really does lift your spirits and give you a reason to kick on. There were a couple of times I felt like bailing out but then I would think about everything people have done for us and realise there is a lot to live for.”