Sienna, a 16-year-old from Wallalong in the Hunter Valley, Australia, has been named one of the eight finalists for the Redkite and Coles Dare to Dream Scholarship.
The Redkite and Coles Dare to Dream Scholarship was established 10 years ago, to inspire young people whose physical or mental health has been affected by cancer, to achieve their goals and ambitions. This scholarship, funded by Coles, helps young people build their future and can be put towards education or life goals.
“I was stoked when I found out. I feel so good. It’s a bit surreal because I’ve done it a few times. I can’t believe I made the top eight finalists. It’s crazy.”
Sienna’s life took an unexpected turn when, at the age of eight, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, an anaplastic ependymoma stage-three.
“It all kind of happened very quickly. About two weeks prior, that I had a seizure in my left hand and after some tests, the doctor called her father over and said, ‘Your daughter’s got a brain tumour’.”
The only treatment option for Sienna was surgery. The tumour was removed, and she underwent 33 treatments of radiotherapy over six weeks. During this period her family stayed at Ronald McDonald House.
The support of her family, and the warm environment created by the medical team made the challenging journey a bit more bearable.
“I used teddy bears during my treatment. It was my coping strategy, so I was allowed to take my teddy bear into treatment with me. I had a different one every single time. They’d just lay on my lap. It was great.”
Sienna’s family faced significant challenges, with her parents swapping responsibilities weekly to be by her side during treatment. Sienna’s sister, Ebony, proved to be a pillar of support.
“I love my sister so much. She’s very supportive. We’re 23 months apart. She’s got her Ps, so she drives me around a lot. Looking back now, as a 16-year-old, I’m very grateful for her. She didn’t complain once because obviously a lot of the attention was on me at the time, and she was only in grade five.”
“My mum and I have very similar personalities, so sometimes we clash a little bit, but I love my mum so much. She’s the rock that holds the family together and she does so much. There are no words to thank my mum to how much she does for me, and my dad is so funny. I love my dad. I’ve got a very good relationship with my dad too. My dad and I have very similar humour. He’s great.”
The support extended beyond Sienna’s immediate family, with her grandparents and friends playing crucial roles.
“My grandma and my pa, they lived down the Hunter Valley with us, so they helped a lot. They helped take care of my sister a lot. And my nan, she lived in Wollongong, so that was about an hour drive. So, my nan would make me bulk meals that we would eat all week.”
“My classmates did as well. They sent me a bunch of headbands because I wore hairbands to cover up where I lost my hair. And that was very supportive. And my aunties and my uncles, all of them, so supportive.”
Redkite played a vital role during this time, providing counselling for Sienna’s parents. The Redkite Diagnosis Support Pack (Red Bag), and a teddy bear that brought comfort and a sense of community. Sienna expresses immense gratitude for Redkite’s support.
“I don’t think I’d be here today if Redkite didn’t show that support during that time. It is vital. I would recommend to anyone going through cancer, to get in touch with Redkite because you get the support the whole way through, even after your treatment. So, it’s great.”
The financial support from the scholarship will enable her to pursue her dreams in acting, covering expenses related to classes and auditions. Sienna is planning to audition for the NIDA Young Actors Studio, and the scholarship will play a pivotal role in supporting her aspirations.
“My mum put me in acting and drama classes in Newcastle at Young Peoples Theatre, in Hamilton. I do musical theatre, singing, dancing and drama classes there now. I love it so much!”
Sienna’s journey, marked by courage and determination, serves as an inspiration to all. “To anyone who’s going through it, just don’t let cancer define what you can do. You can do anything, trust me.”