Xavier Bulger was just seven years old when his mother Kirstie Bulger received her first cancer diagnosis.
The Mooroopna woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.
‘‘It was pretty upsetting for the kids,’’ Ms Bulger said.
‘‘It was harder for me to watch them go through it, then go through it myself.’’
But in 2016 things took a turn and Xavier and Ms Bulger were soon to receive news that would change their lives forever.
Ms Bulger was diagnosed with terminal cancer after it had spread through to her bones.
There was nothing they could do.
But Xavier, who was still a primary school student at the time, stepped up around the house, taking on all of the outdoor jobs and became his mother’s carer, helping out when she was too sick from chemotherapy.
On the surface, he is your typical 12-year-old who loves fishing, cars, motorbikes, and is adjusting to life at high school.
But Xavier is dealing with issues far beyond his teenage years.
‘‘You try to keep life as normal as you can,’’ Ms Bulger said.
But Ms Bulger said their lives had been a ‘‘rollercoaster ride’’.
She said she was proud of her son, but it was not the life she wanted for him.
‘‘A kid at his age shouldn’t have to do that (caring). His older brothers are working to try and help me cover the bills, so everyone pitches in where they can,’’ she said.
Xavier admitted caring for his mother was sometimes ‘‘a bit hard’’.
‘‘Sometimes when they (my friends) go out doing stuff I can’t go because mum’s sick and I need to look after her,’’ he said.
‘‘He doesn’t often have mates over because we just don’t know where we’ll be,’’ Ms Bulger added.
But last year, Xavier was introduced to a special friend who would support him through the ups and downs of being a carer.
Xavier became one of 23 young people aged from eight to 25 from the Hume region who are part of the Villa Maria Catholic Homes Young Carer Mentor Program.
He was connected with volunteer mentor Marion Craig, who has since given him emotional support, life skills and social opportunities.
‘‘Marion is his friend he can confide in,’’ Ms Bulger said.
‘‘Before this, he was a bit uptight and wound up whereas now he’s more relaxed and takes each day as it comes instead of worrying about the would-bes and maybes. He really enjoys his time with Marion.’’
Ms Craig agreed with Ms Bulger.
‘‘Xavier was a little unsettled when I began mentoring him in September last year,’’ she said.
‘‘His mum was going through chemo and it was very unsettling for him, facing his future.’’
Program co-ordinator Marion Rak said the basis of the mentor-carer relationships involved establishing a good friendship.
‘‘We give them that time to jell in the first instance to see if they’re a good fit,’’ she said.
Xavier said he enjoyed doing lots of things with his mentor and the pair were in a hotly contested tenpin bowling championship with one another.
‘‘Xavier and Marion get on like a house on fire,’’ Ms Bulger said.
The pair see each other at least once a week, but not all mentors are required to have that commitment to the program.
‘‘It’s very different for everyone,’’ Ms Rak said.
‘‘Every time they’re together, they don’t always talk about caring either.’’
Xavier spent time recently trying to teach Ms Craig how to fish.
‘‘Three sinkers later... ’’ he joked.
Ms Bulger said Ms Craig often picked up the tasks she could no longer do with her son.
‘‘So he’s not missing out on that side of things,’’ she said.
‘‘They try to pick up what’s missing,’’ Ms Rak added. ‘‘But they’re very careful not to replace the parent.’’
Ms Rak said they were desperate for more volunteer mentors across the Hume region.
‘‘There are currently 13 young people on a waiting list to be matched with mentors,’’ she said.
‘‘Mentors must have a working-with-children’s check, statutory declaration and police check so we know they’re safe to be with children.’’
She said the program also relied on philanthropic support.
‘‘The Young Carer Mentor Program is so grateful for donations from companies like Menzies Aviation,’’ Ms Rak said.
‘‘Money is usually a struggle for these families, most of whom are on benefits, and so the young people do not ask parents for spending money for themselves as they usually understand that mum or dad may have to say no and that is an embarrassment for them.’’
If you would like to act as a volunteer mentor, or make a donation to the program, phone Marion on 0409009878.