Blaze of glory

THEATRE UNITES: Doug Mann, centre rear, has brought together more than one hundred performers like Molly Grey, Loren Elliott, Taylah Smith, Jacob Carr, Tamasyn Shannon, Izzy Stoneham, Lykeira Shannon and Jennifer Brennan to raise money for Blaze Broadway. Picture: Rebecca Hosking 197761_05

by Luke Voogt

Geelong’s theatre community is rallying around local woman Blaze Broadway, who survived a traumatic childhood only to be diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumour last year.

Former teacher and theatre veteran Doug Mann began uniting more than 100 performers from across Geelong for a concert extravaganza after hearing about Blaze’s diagnosis.

“When I look back on the 40 years of my teaching, I can’t think of student who had a more tough time as a teenager,” he told the Indy.

“Her very name reeks of the theatre and (Geelong’s theatre community has) come together to present a one-off event the likes of which has not been seen for a very long time.”

Blaze “dragged herself up by the bootstraps”, according to Doug, who declined to detail her “traumatic” adolescence for privacy reasons.

“It’s pretty horrific what she’s been through,” he said.

“She didn’t do her deb and couldn’t finish year 12 because of her circumstances.

“She is a wonderful woman, virtually self-raised from her teens.”

Barwon Child, Youth and Family removed Blaze from her home in 2012 and local martial arts instructor Rob Baard eventually became her legal guardian.

In following years Blaze earned a black belt in ninjutsu, appeared in a movie alongside Danny Glover, landed a managerial job, saved to travel overseas and began writing a book.

“Then bang, she gets hit with this thing that’s going to shorten her life dramatically,” Doug said.

In early 2018 she began having headaches that worsened until her vision became blurry.

Rob took her to doctors, optometrists and almost every medical professional imaginable until in April a scan confirmed a “massive” brain tumour, he told the Indy.

She was rushed to emergency and the next day had brain surgery, without which she would have died days later, Rob said.

Experts diagnosed her with a grade 2 Oligodendroglioma, an extremely rare reoccurring brain tumour.

Life expectancy is about 12 years following diagnosis but grade 3 tumours can occur, shortening it to three to five years.

“It normally only happens in 80-year-olds,” Rob said.

“That’s why there’s no cure for it – they don’t see enough.”

Last November a tumour returned and after three months of unsuccessful chemotherapy Blaze had brain surgery again in March.

Rob believes her life expectancy could be between 18 months and five years with a tumour likely to return in five to seven months.

A third operation would be riskier than the previous two, due to repeated opening of the head, he said.

But on 5 October singers, actors and dancers from nearly every drama company in Geelong will perform to make Blaze’s travelling dreams come true.

They timed the concert in hope of sending her overseas during a “healthy window” of her recovery lasting a few months, Doug explained.

“I think it speaks volumes to the generosity of Geelong’s theatre community,” he said.

International opera icon Peter Coleman-Wright headlines the show at Belmont High School beginning 8pm.

Blaze preferred not to speak to the Indy while focussing on her recovery, Rob said.

He described the support for Blaze as “overwhelming”.

“How do you say thank you to that?” he said. Search ‘Concert for Blaze Geelong’ online for more information.

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.