Jo Hutchins opens her heart and home

Ron and Jo Hutchins of Two Rocks are making her dream of providing a place where country people can stay while undergoing medical treatment a reality. Picture: Anita McInnes

By Ingrid Jacobson

TO country cancer patients looking for a place to call home during treatment, Two Rocks woman Jo Hutchins is an angel.

The tireless volunteer and her husband, Ron, run Genesis CancerCare Lodge from her two-storey beachside house that has become a haven for those undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments in Perth.

With cost of accommodation being a major issue, the lodge is a godsend for rural folk forced to travel for treatment, given that guests can stay for free under the State Government’s Patient Assisted Travel Scheme subsidy.

Mrs Hutchins was better known to Two Rocks and Yanchep residents as Jo Holding before her marriage last year.

She said people outside the metropolitan area including those in the Shire of Gingin had to live 100km from the hospital they were being treated at to be eligible for the subsidy.

For example that patients had to live 100km from Joondalup hospital or 100km from Sir Charles Gairdner hospital.

This meant Genesis CancerCare Lodge was well situated to cater for rural people who needed somewhere to stay while undergoing treatment.

A shuttle service is also offered via Mrs Hutchins’ partner in the venture, Genesis Cancer Care WA, for trips to its Joondalup day hospital at Shenton House.

Thanks to an extensive makeover by a designing duo from Channel Seven’s House Rules, the lodge is big on luxury.

With only a road  and some sand dunes separating it from the ocean, the lodge has four double boutique-style rooms, each with an ensuite bathroom and spa.

One room is specially equipped for people with reduced mobility, and guests share the big kitchen and living areas and massage room.

Mrs Hutchins, who had run the house as a bed and breakfast for 15 years, was first moved to take on the project after hearing of rural patients’ plight through her involvement in a local cancer support group.

“People were even resorting to sleeping in cars to be close to treatment services,” she said.

“Once I heard that, it became my dream to provide a place where country people could stay.”

Her first step was to approach Genesis, one of the leading private providers of radiotherapy radiation oncology services in WA.

From there, her dream of converting her home into a cancer patient treatment facility became a reality, in more ways than one.

Her idea was welcomed by Genesis and an agreement was reached in which the organisation would lease the house, while she remained as a live-in manager.

And the good news continued with the project also striking a chord with reality show contestants, Brian and Karina Day, and many business owners who contributed products and services.

The Days designed the look of the rooms and supervised the extensive makeover, travelling from their home in Geraldton to Two Rocks many times to help transform the former bed and breakfast.

In 2015, Genesis CancerCare Lodge was launched on a day made even more special when her soon-to-be husband Ron, whom she had known for 50 years, flew in from England for the opening.

Looking back, she believes her journey has been one of those that are meant to be, even from the start when she and some other residents supported Yanchep businesswoman, Sue Dash, in her successful battle against cancer.

Her big need was transport for daily trips to and from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital which would have cost her up to $300 a day in a taxi so friends and volunteers including the CWA took turns to drive her there.

Once Mrs Dash was better, the two friends started their own cancer support group, later launching Two Rocks Assisted Cancer Travels, which provides subsidised transport for locals.

Genesis CancerCare Lodge has also become close to the heart of her husband, whom she married on Valentine’s Day last year.

Their romance was also touched by a bit of that “meant to be” magic, after they met again when she flew back to her homeland of England to visit his mother in hospital.

Sparks flew and soon Mr Hutchins had organised a wedding in England.

“Ron used to go out with my girlfriend and we all hung out with each other when we were young,” she said.

“Funnily enough, his mum always said to me that she wished I had married her Ron and she got her wish although she passed away soon after.”

For the couple, it virtually became a case of two weddings and a funeral when they made the decision to “make it legal” in Australia and begin their new life at their home by the sea.