Fighter Story – Rose Spence

14 October 2021

This is Rose and this is her ‘Fighter Story’ – one we hope all our members and friends can take inspiration from.

“My name is Rose Spence. I am currently in my second year of my Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. I am majoring in pathology. In the future I hope to study medicine and give back to the people who saved my life.

As a kid I had a really active lifestyle. At a young age I developed a passion for sport. I tried out as many sports as I could. I had a go at basketball, tennis, swimming, athletics and dancing before settling on netball. Netball quickly became embedded into the family routine. Every Saturday morning and Wednesday night was spent at the courts. Me and my two younger sisters all played together and my parents were there every week to cheer us on.

When I was nine or ten I began experiencing a lot of back pain. My parents initially thought the pain was the result of a netball injury. However, it quickly became apparent that the pain wasn’t the result of an injury. Our GP tried every avenue they could think of. Blood test results all came back fine and X-rays showed nothing other than a slight scoliosis. Eventually I was referred to the Royal Children’s Hospital and on the 13/03/2013 I was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma of the spinal cord.

We were shocked by the diagnosis. Perhaps it should have been obvious, considering we had been sitting in an oncology waiting room only minutes before. How did we go from back pain to cancer? I was only eleven years old. I didn’t know what cancer was. I just thought that it was a disease which effected older people and caused hair loss.

Within a week I was on an operating table. The initial plan had been to fully remove the tumour. Unfortunately, the tumour was too large to remove without causing significant damage to my spinal cord. Instead, a biopsy was taken and we started chemotherapy. By September 2013 my tumour had shrunk enough for surgery and the amazing team at the RCH was able to remove the majority of it. Anything left over was destroyed with further chemotherapy and in June 2014 I entered remission.

However, I was still dealing with the effects of my tumour and my treatments. The life- saving surgeries I received in 2013 had caused a severe kyphosis of my spine. At this stage I was not able to have a spinal fusion. My oncologist feared that any metal rods in my spine would disturb my MRI images. This was the only way to keep track of the tumour. Consequently, I had to wear a large neck brace during 2013 and 2014 to stop the progression of my kyphosis before receiving a spinal fusion in 2015. I consider this to be the end of my treatment. After that I was able to begin rebuilding my life. I went back to school full time, I finally played got to play netball again after three years and I was able to go out with my friends more often. I finally felt like a normal teenager.

Today, eight years since my diagnosis, I wouldn’t change a thing. The things I went through shaped who I am. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through them. I learnt that things always get better and that I am capable of anything I put my mind to.

I would like to thank Challenge for their support of both myself and my family. Challenge for me means friendship, happiness and support. Challenge gave my family tickets to concerts and musicals, provided us with accommodation for holidays, gave us financial support and even took me on a once in a lifetime trip to the USA. I will be forever grateful for Challenge. The people I met and the memories I made through Challenge have been some of the highlights of my life.”

Rose, thank you for sharing. You are a star we are proud to know.