John Thistleton July 31, 2012
Cynthia Gaigals with her sister Leonie Krieger and niece Sophie Krieger. Photo: Supplied
An Australian aid worker fighting for her life in London has a champion at home, determined to overcome their family's dire misfortune.
Cynthia Gaigals swapped the prosperity of her home town Cowra for drought-ravaged African nations, before two aggressive brain tumours over a decade almost killed her.
Her younger sister and pilot Janelle was killed, when a violent storm hit her plane near Melbourne in 2007.
Now another sister, Leonie Krieger from Bowral, has launched a social media campaign to get herself and her daughter Sophie to London to care for Cynthia.
"We can make her chicken soup, we can make her laugh, we can cook for her, she won't be alone," Ms Krieger said.
Ms Gaigals scorned a well-worn path for girls from rural high schools into teaching, nursing or secretarial work, to make impoverished African countries her home for most of her adult life, never earning much money.
Her sister Ms Krieger knew little about her work, until ill health struck.
She said foreign ministers didn't talk to the people at war in starving countries, and it was left to aid workers like Ms Gaigals to speak to the leaders and families in need, and advise the United Nations and aid agencies on a way forward.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York in 2002 Ms Gaigals suddenly collapsed, later recalling the last thing she remembered was looking at then secretary general Kofi Annan.
After a malignant tumour was removed, she returned to Australia for chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
And a week after receiving the all clear she returned to Kenya.
Ms Krieger said her older sister goes by the nickname Cin, which sounds like sin, and when flirting would say to a man that if he was looking for sin, he'd found her.
Flirting saved her when kidnapped in Somalia. Disarming her captors with cool playfulness, she convinced them if she wasn't released their families wouldn't receive aid.
Earlier this year in London while working for International Alert, a second seizure struck her down. Surgeons later discovered a smaller, aggressive tumour.
"We call it the little monster," Ms Krieger said.
Recovering later after surgeons had removed the small tumour she was re-admitted to a critical care unit, after a massive infection in her brain and later developed into meningitis. Now facing nine months of chemotherapy, her sickness benefits are about to be halved.
Ms Krieger is raising money to go to London and support her sister, who at the age of 52 has friends, but no family nearby.
Friends at home have responded to Ms Krieger's appeal in a You Tube clip, with donations and beautiful messages of support, which has lifted the sisters' spirits.
Younger sister Janelle Johnston, 34, and Steve Nott, 50, were killed when a fierce storm ripped both wings and tail from their in plane in 2007.
Casual teacher Ms Krieger plays down her own ill health, which has prevented her from full-time work or qualifying for a loan to fly overseas.
"I've managed to do really well with no money after the last three years," she said.
"There's never been a time like 'if only I had the money', I've never had one of those moments... I had to get a frozen chicken from St Vinnies.
"Until now. The only reason I am not there (in London) is because of money. It's crazy."
More information about donating can be found at Ms Krieger's website or by watching the YouTube clip above.