The Canberra Times: She was raising three girls on her own, then, at 38, Dianne had two strokes

The morning after her office Christmas party in late November of 2007, Canberra mum Dianne Brookes was feeling horrendous.

"I just thought I had the world's worst hangover," she recalls.

"I was meant to be going to breakfast with a friend so I went into the bathroom to get ready and remember thinking, 'Those floor tiles look so good, I'll just have a little lie down'.

"I basically got down and never got up again."

The eldest of Di's three daughters, Sarah, came home from work and found her mum crawling from her ensuite bathroom to the lounge room, desperately trying to reach the phone. The entire left side of Di's face had collapsed and she was slurring badly. A terrified Sarah immediately called an ambulance.

Di had suffered a severe stroke at the age of just 38, a single mum living in Tuggeranong with three daughters, working as a scheduling assistant for an engineering firm and spending her weekends driving from netball to tee-ball to swimming, dancing, and back again.

Life was hard, but special moments like crowding around the telly to watch The Notebook with her girls while digging into a cheap refried bean dip were moments of pure happiness between the stresses of schooling and finances.

She was allowed home from hospital for Christmas, but suffered another severe stroke while asleep in bed on Boxing Day.

What happened in the six months following Di's second stroke is a major part of why the now 48-year-old was today named Barnados Mother of the Year ACT 2018.

Desperate to get home to her girls after being admitted to The Canberra Hospital - "I had to get back to work, I just kept thinking, 'I have a family to provide for'" - Di's determination at physiotherapy appointments and speech therapy significantly expedited her recovery.

While she refused to attend group rehabilitation sessions for stroke patients - "they were full of old people, that just wasn't me, I was a young mum" - her hard work at home doing physical exercise, including hours of walking around her suburb, saw fast results that astounded her medical teams. Although paralysed down her entire left side, within six months, Di was back at work and by the 12-month mark was walking completely unaided.

Like every mother, Di put her girls first. It was her intense desire to continue to support them financially, to stand on the sideline at sporting games cheering them on and to do "regular things" in the future, like teaching them how to drive, that helped her to heal so quickly physically.

"As well as the fact I'm very stubborn," she says.

"It was sheer willpower. You don't have a choice when you're a mum - you just do it."

Eleven years on and Di's three daughters Sarah, 26, Kellie, 24, and Melanie, 21, have moved out of the family home in Banks, but are still astounded by their mum's willpower and bravery on a daily basis.

Most days after finishing up her full-time job as accounts manager with Canberra company Fixd, Di volunteers her time to numerous local charities. (She starts work early so she can leave early.) On Tuesdays and Thursdays she's on the St Vincent de Paul night patrol, and on Thursdays she volunteers again at night patrol and also with Orange Sky. She spends Saturday mornings being the 'Friend of a Kid' through Barnardos.

And when her three daughters call over with their boyfriends for a Sunday night roast, Di tells them to come 30 minutes early to pack toiletry bags full of bathroom essentials for Canberra's homeless.

"My spare room just has tubs of tiny shampoos, conditioners, soaps, pads and tampons," Di laughs.

"They all know that a visit to my place will always involve packing."

Middle daughter Kellie, who nominated Di for the Barnardos Mother of the Year title, says her "generous" and "amazing" mum inspired her to become an emergency ward nurse and to volunteer her medical expertise in struggling villages in Nepal and Papua New Guinea.

"Despite everything that's happened she's just an incredible person," Kellie says.

"Her determination and perseverance to help us - and everyone else that needs help - is something that people should know about, and she never accepts recognition. It's just what she does.

"The amazing sacrifice she's made from being a single mum our whole lives - we've never missed out.

"We did everything that any other kid could do, all three of us, despite the fact mum worked one job, we were able to do everything and mum would often miss out quite a lot and she still does."

While she's both "excited and nervous" at being named the ACT Mother of the Year, Di says sitting at the dinner table with her entire family is the most incredible reward.

"Motherhood is being able to look at my children and just have absolute pride and love for them," she says.

"There are times they still make me want to cry or scream, but other times we'll have family dinner and I'll just sit back and look at them and think, 'Oh my god, I did such an amazing job'."

Di will head to Sydney next month, where the national Barnardos Mother of the Year 2018 winner will be announced.

(This article was first published in The Canberra Times and was written by Bree Winchester.)