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'Becoming a carer at the age of nine was life-changing ... so was climbing Kilimanjaro' Joanne Galazka's life changed when she became a carer for her mum at the age of nine. But, fresh from a charity challenge trekking up Kilimanjaro, she tells RACHEL MAINWARING that she wouldn't change a thing.

Byline: RACHEL MAINWARING

WHILE most teenage girls enjoy trips to town or the cinema with their friends, Joanne Galazka's experiences of growing up were quite different.

She had to cook, clean, work out the weekly family budget and generally be a "mum" to her three younger siblings after her own mum, Freda, was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression and bipolar disorder after Joshua, now 15, was born.

Joanne, who is now 24, provided emotional support to her siblings and mum at a time when the family would otherwise have fallen apart.

But with the help of Carers Trust, she was able to keep the family together.

And that's why she has just raised more than PS5,000 for the charity by climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro as a "thank you" for their constant support.

Joanne said: "When my mum had my youngest brother Joshua she was diagnosed with postnatal depression which meant she could do very little. I was only nine at the time but helped her change his nappies and feed him, as well as make sure my other brother Chris and sister Sarah were OK too.

"I just did it without thinking really as I wanted to help my mum. I was the oldest of four in a single-parent household and in order for my family to stay together I was left with little option but to step up and take on a caring role.

"My life literally changed overnight.

"The caring, loving mum who did everything for her children was no more and a shadow of her former self but it wasn't until I was about 11 that I discovered I was what is referred to as a 'young carer.'.

"A support worker from the local young carers' project came to my home and did an assessment.

"Activities like cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, ensuring my siblings were dressed and prepared for school, all the things I assumed were just normal, I found out weren't the average responsibilities of an average 11-year-old."

Joanne, from Roath, was assigned a support worker from the young carers' project, and was told that they would always be at the other end of the phone, someone who would listen to her if she was under any strain or stress, at any time of the day or night.

As she got older, her responsibilities increased and providing emotional support to other members of her family became the norm.

"Mum's condition meant she could be hospitalised for months at a time and during one period she was sectioned for almost a year. I had to ensure everyone was emotionally prepared for that and let them know that we, and mum, would be OK.

"At the same time, I had to do all the normal things other children do, like go to school, do homework and sit exams. It was hard because I didn't sleep well and was pretty exhausted most of the time.

"Being a carer meant I couldn't go out and socialise with my friends; I was more likely to be doing the weekly shop for a family of five or go off for parents' evenings.

"But I honestly wouldn't change it.

"Although it was hard, I was determined to do what was right for my family.

"My mum needed me to help and that's what I did. The Carers Trust allowed me to believe that I could one day become an independent woman, and they were right.

"I felt that it was wrong to have dreams outside of family port worker told OK and that I nything I wantthe confidence ersity, knowing blings would be role of carers for life but my supp me that it was could achieve an ed to. It gave me to go to unive that my other sib helped in their r mum too."

now works as a oordinator for ion, graduated niversity with a policy and she not have been without the supt.

Joanne, who n community co Unite the Uni from CardiffUn degree in social says she would able to do this w port of the Trust. So when she opportunity to r the charity with up Mount Kil couldn't refuse.

was given the raise money for a charity climb limanjaro, she s reaching the nowing she had thing so special d cause, was a And she says summit, and kn achieved somet for such a goo moment. ng. I did loads of October so it ch of a physical life-changing m "It was amazin training from wasn't too muc challenge but it was definitely a life-changing moment for me when we got to the top.

"We left on Saturday, March 7, reached the summit on Thursday and then got to the bottom on Friday morning so it was seven days in total.

"I just wanted to do something amazing for the Carers Trust as I don't think I would be where I am now if it wasn't for their support or encouragement. When I was standing at the summit, I just couldn't take it in.

"I can't really explain how it felt but it was brilliant.

"I'm so passionate about raising awareness of the Carers Trust and I'm so happy to have raised PS5,200 so far.

"My current job is about helping people who don't have a voice, it's about supporting the local community, and I'm so passionate about that too.

"I have no regrets about becoming a young carer at all. It was natural for me to want to be there for mum and I know she's very proud of the fact I've climbed Kilimanjaro too.

"I ring home twice a day to check everything is OK with my siblings and mum, but, thanks to Carers Trust, I've been able to become independent and do a job I love, and climb Kilimanjaro."

Donate at: www.justgiving. com/Joanne-Galazka For video and pictures go to www.walesonline.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Celebrating on the top of Kilimanjaro

Joanne takes s a break mid climb

Joanne, pictured back right, with her fellow climbers

240314GALAZKA_07 ANDREW JAMES Jo Galazka climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Carers Trust
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 26, 2014
Words:1024
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