Olivia’s Story

My name is Olivia. I am 22 years old. I am an enrolled nurse studying to complete my registered nursing at university and I play football for South Fremantle.

In November, 2019, I was at work and I noticed I had just slight leg numbness on my right leg, it was very, very faint. And I just thought – this isn’t quite right. I went to lots of physios and doctors. It was about seven health professionals all up that misdiagnosed me with everything under the sun. And then as the pain progressed, it started to move to my back and to my groin. So it wasn’t just leg tingling any more. Sometimes I wouldn’t have it for a few weeks and then it would come back again. And that made me think – I was going to physio and things like that – that the physio and other treatment was helping, because that’s what I was told to do by doctors as well.

Until one day I decided – this just isn’t right. I shouldn’t be in this much pain. I’m 21. I have to have a heat pack on my back when I’m at work, this is just wrong. I went to another doctor, and I said, “If you don’t send me for a scan, I’ll find someone who will.” He sent me for a scan, a little reluctantly, but he sent me for one. And as soon as I was scanned, the radiologists came out and said that I need to see my doctor straight away. And that’s when I knew that something definitely was wrong. I just kind of knew that I had cancer.

Originally the chemo regime seemed very daunting. I had 17 rounds of chemo to complete and six weeks of radiation. Personally, I thought the treatment was going to be much, much worse. Obviously, you see it on TV and everything like that. And I thought I was going to be a very, very sick patient. But I believe that my positivity and my mindset has really helped me with the symptoms and getting through chemo. My chemo experience has actually been okay.

My initial reaction when I was diagnosed, I looked at it very realistically, obviously being a nurse, I kind of looked at it as in, yes, I have a disease and it can be treated. So that’s my kind of mindset towards it. My parents were not the same. They were just very taken aback. I knew that I was under great care and that the medical professionals would do anything they could to give me the best possible outcome. And after 15 rounds of chemo I still feel exactly the same way.

When I was first diagnosed, the doctors told us that where the tumour had spread from my pelvis to the top of my FEMA, there was a laceration and it was vital that I didn’t crack or break the top of my femur. They put me on crutches and I was told to be non-weight bearing until I wasn’t in any more pain. So I was on crutches for about five months, and I would say non-weightbearing for three. And then I moved to one crutch and was on one crutch for two months. In terms of footy, I couldn’t run. I could barely even walk for a very long time.

Being a very active person. I personally struggled probably more with being on crutches than the actual cancer diagnosis. I went from running and walking and walking my puppy every day to not being able to take a coffee to the couch by myself because I was on crutches. I then was cleared about two months in to start riding a bike and I was cleared to swim, but due to the chemo, making me so short of breath, I was a bit reluctant to get in the water, especially with having a low immune system going to a public pool. But I did continue to exercise with the support of the youth cancer centre. They helped me a lot with exercising and building up the strength in my leg again. And then as I came off crutches, I started to swim and cycle and walk.

I’ve been playing for South Fremantle Football Club for about six years. They’re a massive part of my life and I’m a massive part of theirs, they’re like my second family, and as soon as I was diagnosed, all the girls jumped on board to see whatever they could do to help, even if it was in the smallest way. So that was really, really amazing. Their support was vital.

Sock it to Sarcoma! provided a lot of support, especially in the early days. Obviously it was quite a shock, especially to my parents. They took it quite hard as any parent would. I think Sock it to Sarcoma! provided a lot of information and parental support and kind of guided the path, so like cancer wasn’t as overwhelming as it necessarily had to be with that kind of diagnosis at such a young age.

I’m back at the football club now, I will forever love South Fremantle. I didn’t go down a lot in the beginning because obviously I was in a lot of pain and being on crutches made it very, very difficult and I was a little bit nervous that someone was going to kick a footy in my direction and I wouldn’t be able to jump out the way like I used to be able to. And I also found it quite difficult to go down and watch the girls run around and having so much fun when I knew that I maybe would never be able to do that again. It took me a long time to kind of push past that and just go down and remember how much the club means to me. Over the last few months I’ve started going down a lot more and helping out a lot more now, especially I can stand on my own two feet and move a little quicker out of the way of their odd kicks here and there. So it’s been really, really good, being much more involved again, like I used to.

110%, I’ll be going back to play. I’ve already asked my specialist. And he said that there’s no doubt in his mind that I can work my way up to getting back on the field. I obviously have to be very wary that because of radiation, my hip and pelvis – if they break, they’ll take a lot longer to heal,) but the love of the sport will overcome a broken hip that’s for sure. So I’m personally aiming for next pre-season. I don’t see why I can’t at least join in a bit more and hopefully within the next two to three years, I’ll be back out playing.

I was working, down in Collie in the country, completing my grad program as a nurse. I wasn’t able to go back to work and still haven’t been able to go back to work because I was on crutches for so long. Working as a nurse on crutches just was never going to work along with having a low immune system due to chemo, being around infectious diseases all the time would just put me at too much of a risk as well.

Throughout my whole treatment. I’ve been very determined to keep studying and chipping away at my degree. It gives me something to do, and I think it’s really important. I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing. I’m a very active person and that includes keeping my mind active. I’ve really enjoyed having the stability of having university and study. I’m aiming to be back at work by September. It might be a bit interesting to see if that all works out, but I’m keen to get back to work as soon as possible because I really, really love what I do.

This journey is definitely something you can’t do by yourself. Having a support system is definitely vital. Like I said, the South Fremantle girls have been amazing. My family have been, my family and friends have been amazing. My partner has been amazing and Sock it to Sarcoma! definitely have really reached out and given us a lot of information, they’ve really narrowed down the information for us because there’s obviously so much online and not all of it is positive.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone, especially young people, is that no one knows your body better than you do. If you think something’s wrong, you need to advocate for yourself to the healthcare professionals and especially advocate for a scan.

You don’t really know what to expect and I don’t know how it works for everyone, I think exercising is – it’s hard because you feel tired – but exercising is key. There are massive studies behind it, exercising throughout your treatment.

I think positivity is really important – your mind is very powerful. And I think it’s really important, especially for young people to just remember that just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you can’t go out with your friends and still live your best life. I think there are not many times in your life where you’ll have this amount of time off. And I think it’s important to just still remember the things that you love and you can still do them, even if it means that you have to adjust them such as football. I might not be able to kick or run around with the girls at the moment, but I can watch and support.