I know how important it is for people to give to causes that help young people with cancer, I’m living it.
Date: 13 September 2023
19 year old Kirsty Lester shared her story of travelling away from home for cancer treatment at Sony Foundation's Brissy4Ward event. A journey disproportionately heavy for Kirsty and those youth cancer patients who live in regional areas and must travel to the city for treatment.
As a teenager, you think you are invincible. Untouchable even. You never consider spending your high school years in a hospital 6 hours away from home. When you first get diagnosed with cancer, you give yourself a pep talk. You say to yourself that you must do it, be brave and face the unthinkable, but you never know how gruelling it’s going to be. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world is against you.
Let’s flashback to 2020. I was always a busy little bee in school, playing alto saxophone in two bands, playing in the school of excellence volleyball team and training constantly for my Queensland softball team.
After my first day of grade 11, I started to feel the worst knee pains. I just thought it was sport related, continuing my normal daily schedule. This pain moved through my body, spreading to my ribs and back. The pain was so bad that I would pass out at times . I knew something was wrong, but no-one took me seriously. I finally was referred to Brisbane as a suspected rheumatoid arthritis case.
After an MRI, double biopsy and PET scans, I was diagnosed with metastatic Ewing sarcoma. I had a 17-centimetre soft tissue tumour in my right femur, and 22 centimetres of bone was cancerous. It was in my hips, every vertebrae in my spine, my ribs, my sternum, the tops of my shoulders and my liver. This insidious disease spread through my once healthy athletic body. My oncologist said it was serious and I had to start chemo straight away. That was the beginning – the first time around.
I moved to Brisbane with my family, just as covid heightened, we didn’t have any other choice. We were lucky enough to stay at the house of our friends, the Black family in Redland Bay.
I did a years’ worth of chemotherapy treatment, needing 35 blood transfusions to keep me alive. Please go and donate at lifeblood if you are healthy and able. 34% of blood donations go to cancer patients like me.
I suffered the worst radiation burn the children’s hospital burns unit had seen.
I had my dreams ripped away from me. I could never play softball or volleyball again. I couldn’t run around and be a teen.
Finally, in March of 2021, I was declared in remission. I moved back to Gladstone, finished my last two years of high school, started working again and helped coach softball for the same girls team I once played with.
I fell in love.
I travelled around, visiting Fraser Island, Blackdown tablelands and whale watching in Hervey Bay. I went on sunset cruises and long drives. I went to my first concert, A Billie Eillish one of course. And we got a Dalmation puppy.
I developed the mentality of “live your life now”, because I had been told there was an 80% chance of relapse.
And then, at the end of last year, I started getting pain again. After an X-ray at the local hospital, I was flown by the Royal Flying Doctors to the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. After more biopsies and scans, I was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma for a second time.
We had plans. I got into university, Cayden and I were going to move to the sunshine coast, we were engaged to be married. We had places to see. But everything got put on hold.
Before I started treatment, I was put on hormones so I could do an egg collection, so I could have kids later in life. But my tumour was feeding off the hormones and I was told I would have to start treatment right away. That was devastating for me, I really wanted to have that future for my partner Cayden and I.
As I transitioned from the kids hospital to the Princess Alexandra Adults hospital, it felt very isolating and lonely.
This time around treatment has included chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and major surgery. Just 13 days ago, I was lying in a hospital bed after undergoing surgery to finally get rid of that tumour and all the bad things it had brought with it. I am standing here today, with more chemo and radiation ahead, it feels like a never-ending cycle. It’s a sad reality that I can count on more than one hand the number of times I thought I might die.
These treatments I have had to face are scary, but as a 19-year-old girl, I am more scared of the situations I am put in as a young adult. I share hospital rooms and bathrooms with 30, 40, 50-year-old men on wards I don’t belong in all because there are no beds. That’s scary to me. There is limited space for young adults like me to go and feel safe or understood. It’s all very daunting.
That's why I've been so grateful to the Sony Foundation for its You Can Stay program. Since last October, I’ve been able to stay at the Quest Apartments. I would think to myself, I just have to get through this horrible day at the hospital, then I will be okay, as I can go home to be with my people at Quest. I can have my friends and family over, Or, if I want to stay in bed all day, I can. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the You Can Stay program. We wouldn't have been able to afford the amount of accommodation that I have needed in these past 9 months.
I know how important it is for people to give to causes that help young people with cancer. I’m living it. These initiatives help me to see my future. And I’ve got so many plans for when I'm better…
I’m going to go to university and study sport and exercise science, or prosthetic designs or anything I please. I am going to buy a house with Cayden and our 2 puppies. I am going to get married. I am going to travel and see all the things I dream about. I am going to do all the things I planned before this, and there is no backing down, no time to waste.
Sometimes I wonder if people can remember how hard it is to be young. With pressure of social groups, friends, and social media. I wonder if people remember that feeling like no one understands. Add cancer on top of that and being young feels almost impossible.
Thank you again Sony Foundation. You gave my life colour when it looked grey.
And thank you to everyone here today for helping me and other young people to see a future beyond cancer.
(Watch Kirsty's speech in full below)
If you would like to learn more about Sony Foundation's You Can program, CLICK HERE
If you would like to make a donation to support You Can, CLICK HERE