Sue McGarrity, Deputy Chairperson and Secretary of the 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer Macarthur, has just been announced Campbelltown’s Woman of the Year 2024, and her story proves you can achieve anything with selflessness, compassion and community as your guiding values.

Making the announcement, Member for Campbelltown Greg Warren commended Ms McGarrity on the honour, recognising her passion and the positive impact she has made in the Campbelltown area.

“This is a well-deserved honour for Sue. Her unparalleled commitment and ongoing contribution to the betterment of the local community will shape our society into a greater place,” Mr Warren said.

“Sue is an inspiration for other women in the community to realise their potential and make strides to ensure Campbelltown is an empowering place for women to live, work and visit.”

Ms McGarrity spent her entire career in education, starting as a teacher in special education. She was in the classroom for 15 years before transitioning into the department where she worked at a state level in various roles including professional support, consultancy and management.

In 2005, Ms McGarrity was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said, “I was lucky that routine mammograms were available and I took advantage of that. It would never have otherwise been discovered, because I had no symptoms.”

After her diagnosis, Ms McGarrity was waiting for radiation therapy one day when she saw an advert in the Camden Advertiser about a new charity being started by Fred Borg – and they were looking for volunteers. That charity was the 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer Macarthur.

The charity came about as a result of Mr Borg’s belief that the Macarthur region was being denied the funding it deserved for local hospitals. He knew there was a need for real patient support in this area.

Ms McGarrity said, “The genesis of it was to actually provide for what our hospitals needed for local people, particularly so that children could get any treatment, even routine blood work, from a local hospital instead of having to travel to Randwick or Westmead.

“I was actually at the first meeting for 24 Hour in June 2005, and it just grew from there.”

She was responsible for most of the administration work in the charity’s early years. She developed and wrote up all its necessary starting documentation and protocols, did all its desktop publishing and even produced its first posters and brochures.

Since its second year, Ms McGarrity has been the Secretary and the Deputy Chairperson of the charity’s committee and has been one of the pivotal characters in building the 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer into the success it is today.

Mr Borg’s vision was that the charity would be totally volunteer-based so all costs would be covered by sponsors. Because the charity was entirely new, they had no fundraising goal in that first year.

Despite this, Ms McGarrity said, “I was staggered that in that first year, we raised $175,000, which to me was incredible. I think it’s been such a success from the start because it’s a cause that touches everybody. You can’t go to any family or any group without there being someone who has been touched by cancer… It’s a cause that resonates with everybody.

“We’re very lucky in this community. Sometimes Macarthur is maligned, but it’s an extremely generous community at all levels. We had a number of businesses that came on board right at the start… and just about all those foundation sponsors are still with us 20 years later… others have come on board as well.”

During the pandemic, Ms McGarrity noticed a lot of charities closed down altogether, but this was not the case for 24 Hour. If anything, it proved just how committed the Macarthur region was to this cause.

Lockdowns were no barrier to fundraising, and people managed to find fun, creative ways to raise money even under tight restrictions.

“It was phenomenal. People registered, and they still found ways to fundraise,” Ms McGarrity said.

“It meant we were able to continue funding requests from the hospitals. Even during Covid, we were able to keep support going for the hospitals and that was totally community-driven. People found it important enough to continue.”

The charity has now raised over $5.2 million. As Ms McGarrity said noted, “You have to put that in the context of no paid staff. It’s a huge amount of money.”

 

Sue McGarrity with founder of the 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer Macarthur, the late Fred Borg OAM

Her dedication to this cause for the last 20 years is evidence of her personal ethos. It is one defined by admirable levels of empathy, care and consideration for community and putting others above oneself.

“Having something that gives back to others outside of yourself is important. You get a lot more out of the time you put in than you give. The benefits are unbelievable, especially for young people,” Ms McGarrity said.

“It doesn’t have to be a huge 20 year commitment, but even small contributions help other people. It would be nice to think that everyone looked for some little way to make a difference. You have experiences you’d never have otherwise.”

The 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer Macarthur is entering its 20th year this year.

“We hope to have some extra special things happening at the event in October,” Ms McGarrity said.

“The thing about 24 Hour is that most people are helping strangers. They’re grateful for the help they received, so they just want to give back to others. People are doing it almost 100% of the time to help strangers.”

Ms McGarrity’s humility is quite extraordinary. Being announced as Campbelltown’s Woman of The Year 2024 she said was both a surprise and an incredible honour, and despite all she has achieved, she still thinks she is undeserving of the award. Instead, she thinks her win is a win for all of the women helping the community.

“I acknowledge how many wonderful women work in our community and do amazing things, so it’s an honour to be nominated, let alone to receive it. But I’d like to think that it’s an award for all the women that are involved…. No one would be able to do it alone,” Ms McGarrity said.

She has always loved to travel. Before her husband passed away 14 years ago, McGarrity used to cherish the trips they took together. She said, “I’ve always travelled. My husband and I always believed in having something to look forward to. I’ve always liked to see new things and do new things.”

Now, she travels with friends or solo. Of all the trips she has been on, she said Alaska and Egypt were her favourite destinations.

If there’s one thing she wants people to take away from her story, it’s that people ensure they have their routine cancer checks – men and women alike.

“Sometimes I get asked to speak at events, and I always say, those routine checks they’re really uncomfortable with might be worth it because a little bit of discomfort now might save a whole lot of heartache later,” Ms McGarrity said.

She is currently on a trip to Norway with some friends, followed by a coach tour to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and is looking forward to some much deserved down-time before the planning for this year’s 24 Hour event kicks into gear.

–   Emily Kaine