By Karli Steenkamp
“Every year around 23,000 young people (aged 12-25 years) are confronted with a cancer diagnosis – whether it’s their own or that of a parent, brother or sister.”
This is the reality for many people. CanTeen is a youth cancer charity that supports young people that are affected by cancer in some way. On the 26th of October CanTeen celebrates its annual event, National Bandanna Day. This is a major fundraiser to bring awareness to Australians. Maddy, a cancer survivor shared her story and spoke about CanTeen and why everyone should support National Bandanna day.
Speaking to Maddy, she has strength in her voice telling a story that depicts her as the true survivor. One would never guess what she has gone through and she has used her journey to inspire and help others.
Maddy graduated high school when she was 17 and at a time where you have your whole life in front of you, she received devastating news 2 weeks after she graduated. “A lump appeared on the lower part of my pelvis. Initially, I thought it was an ingrown hair, but it turned out to be a tumor. I was diagnosed with stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma cancer, which is a very rare form of cancer, but it all happened within a week. It was such a whirlwind week.”
“There was no time to process. They gave me three months to live just because of how bad it was.” Maddy explains that she felt numb when she got her diagnosis. “You kind of just change into this mode of not wanting to die. I really believed in the power of the mind. It was very much a numbing feeling; I don’t want this to happen and I was almost a bit angry at the world at the same time.”
She had to undergo chemotherapy for 12 months with 6 weeks radiation. Luckily, there was an immediate change in the tumor, something that surprised even her doctors. She doesn’t have words to describe how it feels when you hear the news that you can go home and not worry about hospitals anymore. “I think it really encouraged me. Even if it is just for another 5 years, at least I am going to give it a chance. It was probably the best day of my life.”
Maddy got involved with CanTeen towards the end of her treatment. “I did attend a few of their events, but nothing hugely. It was a bit hard at the time. I was struggling tremendously with PTSD and I was in a pretty bad place to be honest. Cancer can be quite isolating so talking to someone that gets it, is really in the next level an amazing connection. These people really lifted me up and showed me that I wasn’t alone and I just developed some of the most amazing connections – it really changed my life and my head and mind. I had a great passion for CanTeen that I want to share with the world the amazing stuff they do for people with cancer. What they do for young people going
through cancer, it is pretty unbelievable. I think I definitely wanted to do more. I was eager to do more at CanTeen and get more involved.”
She joined CanTeen’s leadership program this year and they asked her to do National Bandanna day. “I am so honoured – it’s the best thing that could possibly ever happen. I started to learn and develop skills I can take forward and into the future and to do National Bandanna day allows me to share the great news of CanTeen and what they have given me.”
National Bandanna Day is an important day for Maddy and CanTeen. It is a day of celebration and showing Australia what they offer to young people. “There is so much more that goes on behind the scenes and what they do for young people. It’s their day. National Bandanna Day gives young people with cancer the opportunity to let them know that they are not alone.”
Maddy shares advice to other young people going through similar situations as she did. “There are so many other people out there that are going through the same or similar thing. I would encourage more people to get involved with CanTeen. It is really life-changing. You don’t need to share your story, you can just have fun and meet other people. Secondly, just never give up, it is really a big thing for me to just never give up. Keep going even though you don’t know if you are strong enough to because at the end of the day, you will be so proud of who you are and what you have achieved.”
Information on where to get your bandanna can be found on CanTeen’s website. There are many ways to get involved and it starts by spreading the word. Two designers have collaborated with CanTeen this year Paul Vasileff, renowned Founder and Designer of Paolo Sebastian and 2017 Young Australian of The Year, to create a beautiful, limited-edition silk bandanna. Pacinta Turner, a young Indigenous artist who designed the “My Country and Wallaby Tracks Dreaming’ bandanna.
CanTeen CEO, Peter Orchard says that their bandannas are symbols of hope, connection and resilience. Their goal this year, is to sell 270,000 bandannas which will enable them to raise $1.37 million. With the proceeds they can continue to provide vital support to young people affected by cancer. “We’ll need support from communities around Australia, so we can achieve our target”.
With thanks to Maddy & Amelia Watson