This is Olivia’s ‘Fighter Story’. We hope you all enjoy it.
“I had just started my first year of Prep when my parents noticed I was more tired than usual and bruising easier than they liked. They knew something was definitely up when my weary eyes were no longer able to make it through my favourite time of the day which was a 30-minute episode of Hi-5. They decided to take me for a routine check up at our local GP where they ran a few blood tests and body scans to check if everything was A-OK. We all quickly learned, it certainly was not and that was when I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Being a kid, you have the blessing and curse of ignorance. You aren’t really able to appreciate the gravity of what is happening. You’re more upset that you can’t go to school, play with your friends, and be a normal five-year-old kid. You are sick of nurses and doctors prodding your fingers, checking your temperature, and perhaps most of all – at least for me – the dreaded nasal gastric tube, which would always slip out at the most minor misstep. I remember so vividly one night I woke up to go to the toilet, and as my dad navigated the drip, I clumsily tripped on the curse of a thing, and out it slipped. I then spent the rest of that night and all of the next morning, promising I’d eat my food and take my meds, pleading my case in the hope I wouldn’t have to endure the most uncomfortable experience of having that thing put back in my nose. Sadly, I was unsuccessful, but I did manage to score an extra sticker to add to my collection, which quickly swayed my mood for the better.
The point is – as a kid, you’re caught up in the little things. When I reflect on what it would be like as a teenager or an adult, it’d be so much harder because you experience both spectrums – the little and the big. The awareness that wow, this is pretty serious; and boy, would I love to just be back with my friends and family, doing all the things that the everyday person enjoys. And then there’s your family, who although aren’t physically sick, experience all the bumps along the road just as intensely as you do. They ride every step of the journey with you and do it with such grit because they don’t have a choice. They need to be strong because you’re not. While dad would work, mum would spend every minute of the day with me and my little baby brother on the ward. She would do everything with me just to make sure I was never alone and always distracted. When it was time to go home, it was dad’s turn to do the rounds and he slept right next to me every night on the most uncomfortable and small chair, just to make sure I knew someone was always by my side. Imagine sleeping in an upright position for I don’t know how many days straight – still boggles me to this day! And then there was my beautiful sister, who was 10 years old at the time. She spent most of this time with my grandma, until mum was able to come home and be there for her. I know now what a heavy toll this was for a girl as young as 10 to carry on her own, but she bravely stood tall through it all, and I will always hold her in the utmost respect for that.
Needless to say, childhood cancer is a difficult journey – sometimes more so for the people indirectly living through it. It is lonely, tiresome, and often, infuriating. However, it is also eye opening. I don’t know if grateful is the right word, but sometimes that’s how I feel for the experience. I think I can say that because I came out the other side, and not everyone does, which is the saddest part of it all. But I do think having experienced what I did at such a young age and then carrying that knowledge throughout the rest of my life has made me a better person. I matured a lot faster than my peers around me and had a greater appreciation for how wonderful life really is. I built dreams and worked tirelessly to achieve them, knowing that each day is never guaranteed and how lucky I was to have a second chance. I owed it not only to myself, but the kids that didn’t get that second chance.
I’m not saying my life has been perfect since I recovered from cancer – I mean, is there really such thing? Of course, there have been plenty of obstacles I have had to overcome to get me to where I am today. But I am still here and can still enjoy all the things that make life so extraordinary. I can play a game of Rumikub with my family at Christmas lunch; I can travel around the world (although, not right now) with my fabulous friends; and recently, I just watched my beloved Demons go on to break their 57-year Premiership drought. So long as I’m here and healthy, the world is full of possibility. It sounds cheesy because it is; but it is also true. And so what I would say to people is always hang on and chase after what you love. Slam your heart into anything that excites you and don’t be afraid if that is ever too much – never water yourself down because life is too short for any of that. There is no preview for life, so make the most of every minute.”