Casey’s Woman of the Year

Jodie Hollis began her journey with Cancer Support Angels in December 2019, and the not-for-profit has since grown exponentially. Picture: SUPPLIED.

By Ethan Benedicto

Being heralded as one of a city’s most upstanding citizens, whether through commendation for your deeds, representation of a people, or a combination of both and everything in between, is a title many would be honoured to have.

As is the case for Jodie Hollis, who was named City of Casey’s Woman of the Year on 22 March, for her outstanding commitment and contribution to the community through her work and personal endeavours.

Jodie’s repertoire made its mark in 2017 through her volunteer work for the Narre-Cranbourne Relay for Life and in recognition of her involvement with the locality, she was given the Holt Australia Day Award in 2020.

Fast forward to 2024, Jodie said that while she was initially shocked to have won, the award has pushed her to strive for more.

“I feel excited and elated, to tell the truth, knowing who I was up against in that category – they were just so deserving of the award that it’s a pity they couldn’t give it to all of us.

“It seems that almost every year there’s another [award] under my or the charity’s belt and it does, it pushes me to continue to hit new levels and raise the bar day in and day out with Cancer Support Angels,” she said.

A not-for-profit organisation that focuses on providing direct practical, financial and emotional support to those undergoing cancer treatment, Cancer Support Angels was Jodie’s ultimate ambition and is not a centrepiece of her life.

“Back in 2013 when I had my own journey with thyroid cancer, I was looking around for support groups and I just couldn’t find any,” she said.

“I could only find online groups and also no financial support services besides Centrelink; that was one of the things that made me go ‘maybe I should look into starting a support group for people with all cancers’.

“While every single person’s journey is different, I find that we’re talking about similar things,” Jodie said.

Jodie founded Cancer Support Angels in 2019 and is entering its fourth year of service to the community.

The journey itself had not been easy, however, and began with Jodie selling her previous business to volunteer for three years to gain insight into the people and their needs.

The organisation officially launched on 16 March 2020 and was met with a tumultuous road to begin its journey.

“When we did start in December we were hit by bushfires, and then when they died down we had severe flooding throughout the country.

“Everything from that died down, and we just started out first moral support groups and whatnot, and then around 22 March I fell over and had a a bad accident,” she said.

Jodie had broken her ankle and torn a few ligaments, and after undergoing surgery she came home at the beginning of the series of lockdowns.

“There was trying to overcome the navigation of children studying at home, not being able to go anywhere and also not being able to do anything since I was stuck in a wheelchair.

“I had to sit there and say, ‘how am I going to navigate online?’, I’m not a marketer, I’m a bookkeeper.

“I just sat there and continually posted every day, we came up with new strategies but finally we got a really large donation from Village Cinemas in Fountain Gate to start our care packs,” Jodie said.

The cogs began turning for Jodie, and with the help of a then-young advertising firm that offered their services free of charge for a month, the not-for-profit moved towards its full potential.

“In the first few days that they were working for us and doing all of our online content, we had 2000 requests for care packs and we had to put it on hold after nine days so I could pack them.

“We started the campaign again, and within 12 days we had another 2000 requests for packs, so they kind of catapulted us nationally in that respect pretty quickly.

“We just had to realise that our presence was going to be more online than it was face-to-face, it was a massive pivot from what we originally planned, but thank God it worked,” Jodie said.

Moving forward, the Cancer Support Angels is a combination of both online and in-person support, with the launch of face-to-face support groups in Casey.

At any given time, there are roughly 70 to 80 active volunteers for the organisation, and with over 5000 patients already supported, Jodie and the Angels are looking to spread their influence and work state-wide.