When Irene Hendel was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, she feared it might mark the tragic and abrupt end to her own personal story, but in many ways it was the beginning of a new chapter in her life. After witnessing firsthand the trials that women went through during cancer treatment, Irene was inspired to join the Think Pink Committee, which at that time focused on raising money for breast cancer research.
At first, she helped out by organising the Annual Ball, but after becoming Chair in 2004, Irene changed the Foundation’s priorities and threw her efforts behind raising money to provide support services and financial help to women who were having trouble maintaining an income during the lengthy cancer treatment process of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Irene was also very sensitive to the emotional hardships during these times: “Back then counselling was not as readily available as it is today and it is particularly hard for a woman going through treatment when she loses her hair”, she explains.
In 2010 Irene spearheaded the opening of The Living Centre, a free wellness facility based outside of any treatment centre or hospital that helps support and take care of these women going through the Breast Cancer journey.
Mirvac, who owned the building at that time, offered Think Pink a fantastic space on St Kilda Rd at a much reduced rental, and Irene is forever indebted to the wonderful Mirvac contractors and volunteers who gave their time free of charge on weekends to clean out and refurbish the Centre.
The Living Centre not only provides a sanctuary for Breast Cancer patients but also for their families; for example a support group has been established for men who are the partners of or related to Breast Cancer patients, where they can share their feelings with others going through similar challenges and experiences. Other initiatives and unique support services have been developed at the Centre such as transitioning back to work and financial management programs.
Irene first caught the eye of Freemasons Victoria when Vaughan Werner, (previously Deputy Commissioner of Police) and then Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge, saw her great work and learned what her foundation was all about during a lengthy and illuminating conversation. “After we talked MWBro Vaughan said “we simply have to be part of this”, Irene says, recollecting their meeting. True to their word as always, Freemasons Victoria has been proudly supporting her and The Think Pink Foundation’s efforts since 2010.