Katoomba's Angus Olsen has won the Local Hero Award in the 2024 NSW Australian of the Year ceremony.
The former Disney cartoonist and Katoomba cafe owner was nominated for his work drawing and writing about childhood cancer and then distributing his work for free.
The NSW award recipients were announced on Monday November 13 in a ceremony at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Mr Olsen's daughter, Jane, was two when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. While he sat at her hospital bedside during her weeks of chemotherapy and surgery, he began drawing about her procedures to make sense of it so other infants and their families could relate. Much of the material about cancer is only targeted at adults.
The 44-year-old has not made a cent from his works, which have gone viral and been downloaded about half a million times. For him it has all been about awareness of what children with cancer go through.
"The awards are chosen by a council of distinguished Australians. I am so thankful to the many nominators and referees who made the case for why I should receive this award. From what I've heard they were extremely thorough and whatever happens I feel deeply honoured just being nominated," he said.
Nomination efforts were led by fellow Aussie cancer dad Jason Sotiris. Mr Sotiris and Mr Olsen were "cancer dads" together at Sydney's Westmead Hospital.
When Mr Olsen posted the news to social media of his nomination he was swamped with responses from all over the world praising his advocacy to help others understand childhood cancer treatment.
Dave and Sarah Donlon in New York wrote "your work speaks volumes and touches my soul. Thank you for bringing awareness for our beautiful warriors near and far. You've already won (but this award would be amazing too)! Best of luck!"
Olsen is up against the following nominees:
He's hoping through the nomination he can encourage eligible others to sign up to be bone marrow donors through Strength to Give.
Mr Olsen's daughter Jane, endured a year of chemotherapy treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma - a cancerous tumour that develops in the body's soft tissues, usually the muscles. But that was all pre-pandemic.
"When we went through treatment there was no shortage of anything," Mr Olsen said. "Even when everyday life was normal, it was hell on earth."
When he drew about the double whammy of what it was like for kids living with cancer in the face of a global pandemic, his cartoons went viral.
Jane, now 10, has been in remission since May 2017. During the COVID lockdown for Jane's check-up at the hospital, security was so tight, not even siblings could visit - something that was so important for Jane.
Previously Mr Olsen told the Gazette: "It's a privilege ... to contribute to these children's lives in a positive way. The same team that saved my daughter's life are now using my material, that was a powerful moment for me."
National Australia Day Council chief executive Mark Fraser said the NSW nominees were "ordinary people doing the most extraordinary things".
In his day job Mr Olsen is the barista of CafeXpresso kiosk at Katoomba station and draws cartoons between lattes.
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