It had always been Shannon Blake’s mission to help people.
As a teenager she would baby sit her friend’s little sister. As an adult she would give up almost anything to help her family and girlfriends – who now describe her as their “rock”.
The Rockingham-born teacher and child psychologist loved sport and lived a healthy, active and happy life. The eldest of three girls, and the daughter of two teachers, she was a born mother and carer.
Three years ago, Ms Blake had a melanoma removed from her back after she read an article about the disease. After this, she dedicated herself to a healthy diet, avoided excessive sunlight, and had thorough check ups every three months.
After two years, she appeared problem free, and fell pregnant with her second child.
But in July last year, six weeks after giving birth to a son, her health changed markedly.
She started experiencing unbearable pain and was treated by a chiropractor and physiotherapist. In the weeks to follow she had a chest X-ray and a CT scan that identified secondary melanomas throughout her body.
Ms Blake believed in the strength of her body, and tried to heal herself through raw food diets, nutritional supplements and meditation.
However, she started to get blinding headaches. When she went to Rockingham Hospital, a tumor was identified in her brain.
The 31-year-old died at the hospital two days later on January 19, 2011.
She left behind her husband John, and two children, Mischa, 4, and Lachlan, now six months.
Seven of Ms Blake’s girlfriends have since come together to establish a charity for her children known as The Little Blake Education Fund.
“I wanted to do something for Shannon as soon as she got sick, whether it was medical bills, vitamins, I just wanted to help her,” close friend and Little Blake Education Fund organiser Talei Prickett says.
“It all happened so fast that we’d run out of time for that, so after she’d passed we thought we would do something for her kids.”
After discussions with Ms Blake’s family, the team decided she would have wanted her story to serve as a warning to others, and to help as many people as possible.
Melanoma Institute of Australia statistics show more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with the disease every year.
Melanoma is the most common skin cancer and is also the most preventable. Australia has the highest incidence of the disease in the world.
“When she was unwell we talked about how she would do these big conferences and tell people how she beat it, and help other people beat it as well,” says close friend and Little Blake Education Fund organiser Kristy Smyth.
“She just wanted to help others.
“She was a beautiful, generous and giving person.”
The group decided to present half the funds raised by the new fund to the Scott Kirkbride Melanoma Research Centre, a Western Australian based organisation.
Ms Blake’s friends have been busy selling fundraiser chocolates and sunscreen, and organising events.
Rockingham’s Rustico Tapas Bar held a sellout two-sitting charity breakfast in August, and will host a gala evening in November this year.
On November 1, a Melbourne Cup fundraiser will be held at Gnarabar in Margaret River, the town where Ms Blake lived with her husband and children.
Gnarabar owner Anthony Janssen says he is honored to host the event.
“There are a lot of people behind the fund who are passionate about it, and our community is passionate about supporting it,” Mr Janssen says.
Ms Blake was grateful for the support she received in her final months. On Facebook four weeks before she died, she described her friends and the community as her “angels”.
“Your amazing energy and constant thoughts heal me every day,” she wrote on December 14 last year.
“I’m so very blessed to be part of such a wonderful, supportive community and can’t thank you enough.”
The fund organisers agree 2011 has been difficult but say their work has been therapeutic.
They believe Ms Blake would be proud.
“I think this is something Shannon would do,” Ms Prickett says.
“She would never sit there and do nothing.
“She was always a doer, always the one with great ideas, so I think she would be really rapt.”
Ms Blake’s family has been overwhelmed by the fund’s success.
“We are blown away by the numbers of people that have come out to support the fund and honour Shannon,” Ms Blake’s younger sister Ashley Cragan says.
“The girls, Shannon’s friends, are entirely responsible for the success of the fund, and our family will continue to support their efforts in the future.”