Northern Beaches woman turns grief into support through charity auction

After tragically losing both her father and grandmother in one day, a young Balgowlah woman is turning her grief into support for Greenwich Hospital palliative care.
It was tough enough when Rhiannan Atchison, then 16, lost her father to cancer at Greenwich Hospital. But in a shocking turn of events, her grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack at her son‟s bedside within moments of his passing.

Now six years later she has become a regular volunteer at the hospital where her family received “loving, accommodating, and respectful” care in the midst of the most difficult of times.

What‟s more she is channeling her creative energy towards the renovation of the palliative care family room – a place family and friends can retreat to while they visit loved ones during their final days.

Rhiannan is rallying the support of the local Northern Beaches and North Shore communities by holding an auction evening at the Collaroy Beach Club on Tuesday, May 12. She is calling for local businesses and community members to donate prizes for the auction, as well as joining in for an evening of fun.

All proceeds from the auction will assist with the complete refurbishment of the room including interior design, new furniture and appliances, all at a quality befitting such a significant space.

For more information about the auction and how to support Rhiannan in her mission, she can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rhiannan's full story

In her early teens, Rhiannan Atchison and her two older sisters helped care for their father, Paul Atchison, who was dying of bowel cancer. Many of these precious years were spent in and out of hospital watching his slow and cruel decline.

After gaining secondary cancer, Paul took a turn for the worst and passed away at HammondCare‟s Greenwich Hospital in 2009 at just 40 years of age. This horrific experience for 16-year-old Rhiannan and her family, was about to become even more harrowing.

In a shocking turn of events, Rhiannan‟s grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack at her son‟s bedside, within moments of his passing.

Softening the impact of loss

In the last months of Paul‟s life he was cared for at HammondCare‟s Greenwich Hospital. “It was a terrible experience for us to go through, but the continuing care and support Dad and our family received in the palliative care ward softened the impact of such a heart breaking time,” said Rhiannan.

With the death of two people so prominent in her life, what followed was years of restlessness and delayed grief.

Volunteering on the ‘Jolly Trolley’

“Six years later there was something inside of me that wanted to go back to the palliative care ward where my dad and grandmother passed away that day. I felt it was time to confront what I‟d been trying to forget about.”

Rhiannan now volunteers weekly at the hospital where she pushes the „Jolly Trolley,‟ offering the patients in palliative care drinks and chocolates.

“Everyone will be affected by palliative care at some point in their life. I want to make it my mission to help ensure everyone that comes through Greenwich Hospital has the same loving, accommodating and respectful experience my family had.

A hospital wedding

“For instance, it was one of dad‟s dreams to marry his partner Michelle, and when the nurses found out, they made it happen. The volunteer and nursing staff were so accommodating – they pulled together the most beautiful wedding ceremony in dad‟s room, complete with fairy lights and flowers, there wasn‟t a dry eye around,” said Rhiannan.

To do her part in supporting this warm family experience for others, Rhiannan is now channelling her creative energy towards the renovation of the palliative care family room – a place family and friends can retreat to while they visit loved ones during their final days.

Rhiannan‟s rallying the support of the local Northern Beaches and North Shore communities by holding an auction evening at the Collaroy Beach Club on Tuesday, May 12.

For more information, interviews, photos and resident/patient case studies, please contact Georgia Maher on 0400 297 388 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Jenny Stevenson on 0402 214 039 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.