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What cancer and disability have taught Tina about life

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When Tina was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer of connective tissue and bone, she was given a 98 per cent chance of survival.

They were good odds, and in that moment the budding artist and active 25-year-old from Sydney wasn't too worried.

She remembers not crying, because the survival rate was good.

But because the cancer was in her ankle, she soon realised just how much her life would change.

Surgery to remove the cancer would completely change her body and her lifestyle.

She wouldn't be able to run. No more netball. No more dance. And recovery would mean taking time out from her art studies.

Ten years later some of Tina's artistic dreams have become a reality, but she's had to let go of other passions, and embrace what recovering from cancer gave her instead.

What was life like before your diagnosis?

I was a mature-aged student, studying my second degree in fine arts. I was part of an arts collective and was making new friends.

I was going to the beach, working at a nearby cafe. I was doing what normal 25-year-olds were doing.

I was single at the time — still am!

I played the odd game of netball, something I'd loved since primary school, and I was going to the occasional dance class for exercise.

Being a kid from south-west Sydney, the only exposure to dance was Chinese traditional dances at my local scout hall.

Somehow at 18 I ended up at the Sydney Dance Company at their hip-hop casual classes.

I was still living in south-west Sydney at that time. I had no car, and the classes were late at night. I don't even remember how I got there.

I was in heaven.

But art was my new passion, so my time for those fitness hobbies had dropped off a little.

How did the diagnosis and treatment impact you at the time?

Tina with friends wearing her moonboot during treatment
Tina, here with friends, wore a moon boot for about four months.(



I don't think back then I really thought too much about my health.

When I went to have my ankle checked out it was only because it was swelling that wasn't going away after an injury in netball.

The GP said it looked a bit strange and referred me to a specialist. I didn't expect them to find cancer.

Surgery was the main treatment for my tumour. I didn't lose just a bit of bone, but way more than I thought I would.

It was the first time I'd had major surgery.

I didn't think about the repercussions. The treatment just felt like something I had to go through.

I did a round of chemotherapy after that — just to make sure. When someone tells you for the first time they are going to inject poison into your body, and that it's meant to help you, my mind did a double take.

After my first injection, I got really anxious and ended up spiking a fever and going into emergency for my first week. People had to wear hazmat suits to deal with me.

I remember not being able to keep food down.

Those kinds of things were really difficult to deal with.

From there, I had a moon boot on for about four months, then a cast. I was on crutches for the longest time.

It was almost a year of recovery.

What was your 'new normal' after that time?

Tina post-treatment with her hair growing back
After treatment, Tina said she felt pressured to play catch up.(



My ankle is not the same as it was. Sometimes I still feel off-balance.

Too much activity is painful, even a light jog.

I feel like straight after my recovery I just wanted to catch up and get better — be a successful artist.

I wanted to pick up like nothing had happened.

I spent years trying to do that — catch up — but I became exhausted.

Friends who have been through health issues have experienced a similar thing. Everyone has a few years of "what the f*ck" after something like that.

You're just trying to kind of find yourself again.

Ten years have passed now. What do you think has changed the most?

I've realised just to be able to be here, and experience things, like to be present with my family, my friends, is so important.

Even though I feel like that feeling of needing to catch up won't leave me.

But just to be a part of people's lives and be able to experience life for yourself is such a privilege just to have that time.

I appreciate those everyday things now, like hugs. You form connections when hugging people you love (even if we can't do that right now).

Even having a disability pass for life, that's great.

I was in pain for so long. Physical and emotional pain.

To be pain-free on both counts and living a regular life — well, regular for me — that is something I value.

I'm slowly getting back into my art on the side. It's a huge part of who I am, but I'm still coming to terms with my relationship with art.

For a while it was hard to dissociate being sick and art making.

Between 25 and 35 — some of the things I loved I had to let go. Like dance, for instance. But I've also found delight in new things, like pottery and weightlifting.

It's taken a long time to learn how to reframe my past and see it for what it was.

Getting sick 10 years ago — it's time to let it go.


Source: ABC

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