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Cath O’Loughlin tells the amazing story of how a city came together to make the dream of a young boy come true.

Cath O’Loughlin tells the amazing story of how a city came together to make the dream of a young boy come true.

Alex becomes a firefighter for a day. Photo by Meaghan Coles

There’s a well-known saying that it takes a village to raise a child – and for the Childhood Cancer Association, we recently had a whole city come together to celebrate a child.

Adelaide’s city centre came to a standstill in February for Make Alex’s Day, an amazing event that enabled eight-year-old Alex to become a firefighter and rescue two sporting stars from on-high in a ‘burning’ building.

Alex was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was just three years old and lost his sight as a result. He’s a courageous, smart and funny young boy who’s enjoying school and making friends. Alex and his family are supported by the Childhood Cancer Association in South Australia – and are among the 400 families we support every year.

Make Alex’s Day was conceived by media personality Mark Soderstrom of Mix 102.3FM, himself a former firefighter. Together with his on-air radio partner, Jodie Oddy, Mark had Alex and his family in the studio regularly to share their story with the public. From there, Mark and Jodie’s efforts are an example of what two determined individuals can achieve for a not- for-profit organisation like ours.

We’re immensely grateful for the hours of work they put into the surprise, pulling together an amazing array of supporters. They enlisted the support of the Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) to help make Alex’s firefighting dream come true and negotiated with other vital stakeholders – from the South Australian Premier to the Adelaide Lord Mayor – to ensure the city could ‘shut down’.

MFS Chief Officer Greg Crossman stood aside to make Alex Chief Officer for the day. Port Adelaide Football Club offered captain Travis Boak (a long-time Childhood Cancer Association ambassador) to be rescued, and Adelaide Crows offered their AFLW captain Erin Phillips – all a complete surprise for Alex. SA Police and SA Ambulance Service were also on hand to help manage the massive event, which stopped traffic and attracted thousands of onlookers.

Photo by Keryn Stevens

While the event is something Alex and his family will never forget, it was also an important catalyst of support for the Childhood Cancer Association. We receive no government funding, yet we need $1 million every year to help the families we support. Our services include professional counselling and sibling support. We offer daily hospital visits, accommodation for country and interstate families, respite accommodation, financial assistance, education support via home tutoring, and bereavement support. Make Alex’s Day helped generate an influx of donations and suggestions from people wanting to help do something special for Alex.

Then Premier Jay Weatherill presented the Association with a cheque for $20,000. Workplaces and firms made donations totalling $45,585.

Halls Cranes donated a Mazda 3 worth $28,000, which will make a big difference to our ability to deliver services.

And this heart-warming story was covered widely by the media, from Channel 7 and Today Tonight to The Project on Ten; newspaper coverage including two front pages in The Advertiser; and myriad online stories including articles on Mamamia and The Daily Mail.

Event partners shared supporting messages on social media, outlining how people could help the Childhood Cancer Association and using the hashtag #MakeAlexsDay.

As Alex’s story has been shared, it’s been a rare opportunity for the public to understand the rollercoaster faced by families living with cancer, and a reminder that a young person’s parents, siblings, grandparents, friends and community all need support too.

Like many not-for- profits, we’re used to giving help and support to others. The support we received for Make Alex’s Day was overwhelming and truly moved our staff, board and volunteers. On the day, it was amazing to see traffic stop and thousands gather in the CBD to see Alex’s dream come true – and to remind us of the importance of our work.


Cath O’Loughlin

Cath was appointed the CEO of the Childhood Cancer Association in 2009 and is also a long-term board member  of the Association. Cath has extensive senior management experience in both the public and private sector, including 15 years practising as a solicitor. Cath has a Bachelor of Law and an MBA. She is very passionate about supporting children with cancer and their families.


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