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How Redkite and the Sydney Swans cheered me on during my cancer journey

 

By Adry Awan

Adry

The final year of high school is challenging by nature. Like many students who reach their final year at school, I experienced the intensified pressure to do well in exams and assessments almost immediately, largely due to the allure of graduation and future educational and vocational plans. Nevertheless, I did my best to take it all in my stride: as a student, I was the first one to class and the last to leave; as the School Captain, I took great pride in devoting extra time and energy towards representing my school within the wider community, and as a friend, I was always up for nights out with the boys, knowing how important it was to maintain a steady balance between my study and free time.

  

 

In May 2013, just four months before I was to sit my final exams, and six months shy of graduating, I became something that my teachers, friends, school community, and certainly my family and I never thought I would become - a cancer patient, when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. I required immediate surgery and multiple cycles of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was only 17.

  

 

My diagnosis had a profound effect on my mental health. To have been diagnosed with cancer at such a young age and at such a pivotal time in my life was extremely difficult for me to accept. I felt like my world had fallen apart. I was supposed to be worrying about how I would be able to write three essays in under two hours for the final exams, what degree I wanted to study at university and how I could muster up the courage to ask that cute girl to be my date for formal - but there I was, forced to worry about whether I would be healthy enough to complete year 12 at all.

  

 

Once again, I tried to take all of the challenges I was facing in my stride. As best as I could, I kept the emotions that I was experiencing as a result of my diagnosis - the sadness, anger and disappointment - all to myself. Whenever my family would ask why I was acting out of the ordinary, such as becoming anxious and angry more easily, or my friends would notice that I was not interested in going out with them as much as I used to, I would attribute my behaviour as simply being from “exam stress” and tell them that I was doing “just fine”. I did this because at the time, I felt that managing my mental health was something I could do on my own. I felt I didn’t need to confide in my friends, family or teachers; doing so, I believed, would cause even more heartache and worry for the people I deeply cared about. Underlying this ‘macho’ attitude however, was an overwhelming sense of fear. I was afraid of what people would think of me if they knew how I was feeling.

 

  

One of the few things that brought significant relief to me during this turbulent time were Swans games (especially when they would win!). In our household, watching Swans games brought our family together. My parents, brother and I would huddle around our TV, eagerly keeping one eye on the scoreboard and another on the field to see Tippett take a mark, or Bolton evade the opposition. Given how integral the Swans were to our family life, my parents organised for our family to watch the Swans’ round 16 match against the Giants, live at the SCG. This was an opportunity that my parents knew I would not pass up, no matter how close I was to an assessment deadline or how much study I had to complete.

  

 

The Swans/Giants game was the first Sydney Swans game during my cancer journey that I watched live at the SCG and was a defining moment for my overall recovery. Thanks to the hospitality of my Dad’s colleagues at QBE, my family and I were able to watch the Swans’ outstanding, dominant performance against the Giants from QBE box seats. We were treated with such warmth from QBE, Swans and SCG staff on the day that I noticed the anxiety I had developed as a result of my diagnosis, become more manageable as the game went on. By being amongst other loud, passionate Swans fans, I could forget about all the stresses that came from being diagnosed with cancer and just simply enjoy myself. Most of all, being at the game with my parents made me comfortable enough to open up to them about all the emotions I had experienced as a result of my diagnosis. After that game, I was no longer afraid or embarrased to have open and honest conversations with my parents about my mental health.

  

Shortly after I graduated from high school, I discovered that my cancer had relapsed. I was absolutely devastated. As a result, I had to postpone my start at university for one year. In hindsight, taking a year off from studying was a blessing because it introduced me to Redkite and the range of support services they provide young cancer patients and their families. Through receiving support from Redkite’s education and career support team during my year off, I was able to restore a degree of stability with regards to my plans for further education. I no longer was lost and confused with exactly what I wanted to do. When I eventually started studying at university, I regularly accessed financial support from Redkite to cover the costs of textbooks. Overall, the support from Redkite helped ease my transition to life post-cancer, making it as smooth as possible.

  

 

When I was placed in remission, I made the conscious decision to advocate for charities that I felt deeply connected to, and helps other young people overcome circumstances similar to what I experienced. Redkite is one charity that I am particularly passionate about because of how they went above and beyond to help my family and I during my cancer journey.

 

  

This year, I am proud to represent Redkite as the ambassador for Swans Red Day. When the Sydney Swans take the field at the SCG on Saturday May 19th against Fremantle for the annual Red Day match, I will be celebrating five years since I was diagnosed with cancer. I understand that to many people, it may seem unusual to celebrate such an occasion - after all, being told I had cancer was far from being the happiest day of my life. However when I reflect on my cancer journey over the last five years, I am able to recognise that it because of the support I received from Redkite and the enjoyment I took from being a fan of the Sydney Swans, that the experience of battling cancer shaped me into becoming the best version of myself. I may have been diagnosed with cancer but I am certainly not defined by it.