If you look for the light, you can often find it

Date: 4 August 2022 

Sally Collett was a patient at The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital during her cancer treatment in 2021. At Sony Foundation's Brissy4ward event, she shared her story and how the You Can Centres are there for young people when they need it most. 

In January of last year, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Throughout my journey, I’ve had some of the darkest days of my life, but I’ve also gained many new friends, a new perspective on life and a purpose. But before we get to the happy part of the story, let’s rewind to 2020. COVID-19 turned the world into a dumpster fire, my boyfriend of four years broke up with me, and to top it off – he kept the dog. I packed up and moved my whole life, minus my dog, from Airlie Beach to Brisbane. I was heartbroken and unemployed, crashing on my friend and her boyfriend’s couch in a new city.

Shortly after the breakup, I decided to take myself off the contraceptive pill and I started experiencing irregular periods. I visited my doctor, and after an ultrasound and CT scan, it was revealed that I had a 30-centimetre football-sized cyst on my left ovary. Two days before Christmas I had laparoscopic surgery to remove the cyst. I spent Christmas day alone in bed, barely moving and feeling sore but relieved – finally, I could relax and get on with my life. I thought ‘yeah, 2020 was a bit rubbish but there’s a new year on the horizon – new year new me. It’s only uphill from here’. Incorrect.

L: Sally delivering her speech on stage, supported by her friend

R: Aliona (Brissy4Ward 2019 You Can Speaker), Sony Music Publishing artist - Brooke McClymont, Sally 

Three weeks later I received a phone call from my surgeon informing me that they had performed a biopsy on a sample of the cyst, and it had come back as cancerous. When he told me, I just felt numb. I felt like someone was playing a joke on me and that I'd get a call tomorrow and they’d say they made a mistake. But it was real.

From January 2021 I went through a series of hospital visits, scans, blood tests which all ended with a second surgery in May. Then the real nightmare began – chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is like a face-sucking dementor from Harry Potter; it steals your soul and makes you feel like a lifeless husk of a human, which is the best way I can describe it. That's how my experience was, at least. My mind became clouded, my bones ached, and my fingertips and feet went almost completely numb. I felt as if my body had betrayed me, as if I were inhabiting the weak and frail body of an imposter rather than my own normal, healthy, 25-year-old body.

At this point, I was not in the best mental state. One of my social workers at the Royal Brisbane hospital invited me to attend a Look Good, Feel Better workshop at the You Can centre. I almost decided not to attend because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving home.

But I went, and I’m so glad I did because it changed the course of my cancer journey. I met four other beautiful young women that were also battling cancer and for the first time since starting chemo, I didn’t feel so alone. They understood the experience of having cancer as a young person and what it’s like to feel like a stranger in your own skin. As much as I cherished the support I received from my friends and family during this time, they simply could not relate to my experience and that is something I needed from my fellow cancer friends. It’s a support system I never would’ve had access to without the You Can centre.

I started to go to more events at the centre such as monthly art classes, a virtual reality workshop and the RBWH’s Giving Day. I always left the hospital feeling happier every time I went to an event. As I neared the end of chemo, my mental health took a steep dive and I started to lose the will to reach the end of my treatment. I just wanted to give up. A week or so before my final session of chemotherapy in August, Brisbane experienced a particularly severe lockdown. The lockdown prevented me from going to work or visiting my friends and it closed the You Can centre. I realized just how heavily I depended on my support network and how important the YouCan centre was to maintain my mental health.

In a few weeks, it’ll be my one-year anniversary since I finished chemotherapy. Since then, I’ve enrolled into a Bachelor of Social Work at university so I can one day do what my social workers did for me and provide support to young people battling cancer. I’ve joined the Chimera Legacy Foundation as a patient ambassador, a charity that aims to relieve patient stress and anxiety by using virtual reality technology. I still attend as many You Can centre events and workshops as possible – even though I’m not a patient anymore. And most importantly – I can currently cancer free and no longer bald!

Throughout my journey, I went through tremendous personal growth, met many amazing, beautiful humans and I found my purpose. I'm about to share with you a quote that I first heard when I was thirteen years old and has stayed with me ever since. ‘If you look for the light, you can often find it. But if you look towards the darkness, it is all you will ever see’.

The You Can centre was a source of light for me in a time when the darkness seemed to surround me.

I can’t thank the Sony Foundation enough for all they’ve done to support young people fighting cancer.

Thank you for listening.   

(Watch Sally'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

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