Tasmanian Senator's heartfelt speech shines spotlight on urgent need for Brain Cancer research funding

4 December 2023

On Monday, December 4th, 2023, Tasmanian Senator Catryna Bilyk delivered a heartfelt and poignant speech in the Senate that resonated deeply with all those concerned and affected by the devastating impact of brain cancer in Australia. The Senator brought to light the critical need for increased brain cancer research funding in Australia. Central to her address was the awe-inspiring story of 9-year-old Zara Skepev, who raised $14,325 for brain cancer research through her creative endeavour of crafting and selling over 300 unique handmade earrings.

Senator Bilyk stated, "It's the efforts of young, inspiring individuals like Zara that catalyse real change. Her dedication exemplifies the collective spirit needed to battle this devastating disease." Milena Skepev, CEO and Founder of The Australian Brain Cancer Foundation (ABCF) and Zara's mother, expressed gratitude: "Our heartfelt thanks to Senator Bilyk, the ANU and all our supporters. Together, the ABCF and the Canberra community are tackling one of Australia's most formidable health challenges."

Zara Skepev, who at a the tender age of 9, was awarded the Order of Australia Association Youth Medallion (2023) for her remarkable efforts in raising money for brain cancer research, serves as an inspiring testament to the impact we can make when guided by compassion and dedication, a vision she inherited from her mother, Milena.

Zara Skepev (C) with her mother Milena Skepev (L) and Head of Genome Sciences and Cancer Division Professor Leonie Quinn (R) during a tour of the cancer research facilities at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), ANU in March, 2023. (Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU)

In a remarkable display of support for brain cancer research, the Australian National University has established the Zara Skepev Fund for Women in Brain Cancer Research, named in honour of Zara's extraordinary efforts. This fund is a testament to Zara's impact, having already facilitated the earlier return of a dedicated brain cancer researcher Dr Zaytseva from maternity leave. This early re-engagement in critical research underscores the vital role that funding plays in accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and innovation in the battle against brain cancer.
The ABCF, driven by its mission to advance brain cancer research in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), emphasises the urgent need for public awareness and funding. The foundation fosters groundbreaking research, striving to position Canberra as a leader in brain cancer innovation. Additionally, it aims to enhance clinical care and support for patients and their families.

Brain cancer remains a significant and pressing public health concern in Australia, claiming the lives of more children and individuals under 40 than any other form of cancer. Despite its malignant and pervasive impact, research funding for brain cancer has languished for decades, leaving affected individuals and their families in challenging and often desperate circumstances. We are determined to change this.

After meeting with the JCSMR scientist Dr Olga Zaytseva and her son Arthur, and understanding the impact of her philanthropy, Zara is committed to continuing her fundraising efforts by making earrings every year, each time bringing on a new friend as her business partner. For 2024, she has partnered with Indi Jocevski, and they have already made over 100 pairs in preparation for March in the lead up to International Women’s Day.

Her enduring initiative which falls under the umbrella of the ABCF, symbolises the spirit of community and collaborative effort that is essential in the fight against brain cancer.

Senator Bilyk's touching speech serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for action in the face of brain cancer's devastating impact. Zara Skepev, and her remarkable achievements, as well as the enduring efforts of the ABCF and Milena Skepev, stand as beacons of hope and progress in the fight against this relentless disease. Together, guided by compassion, dedication, and the vision of inspiring individuals like Senator Bilyk, Zara and her mother, Milena, we can make a difference and usher in a brighter future for all those affected by brain cancer.

For more detailed information about The Australian Brain Cancer Foundation and to extend support to its noble mission, visit the website at https://www.australianbraincancerfoundation.com.au and Zara’s Instagram page @zandm.co

Read the JCSMR previous article on Zara and her friend Mila here: Inspiring women in STEM: one pair of earrings at a time