02/11/2015 5:47 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Brain Cancer Sucks, But I Feel Lucky

Sony Foundation

I want to start by clarifying that there's nothing lucky about getting brain cancer. It sucks, but that's not what this is about.

I'm the first to admit that it took me a while to shake the "why me?" mentality, but this isn't about my own struggles, or dark days. It's about perspective, and the unexpected silver linings I've stumbled upon. Please bear with the cliché while I explain.

Before all of this happened, I was no stranger to hospitals; as medical students we'd trot around the wards following consultants, wondering if we'll ever squeeze that much knowledge into our already exploding heads. But becoming the patient taught me so much more than any lecture ever could.

It made me realise that you can never underestimate the power of family, or the power of housemates who bring in an eski full of home-cooked meals when you just can't stomach hospital food any more.

Of course, you can never underestimate your fellow patients. A woman from the spinal ward once wheeled up to me after I'd vomited in the physio gym and told me I'd be walking again in no time.

I looked down at her legs and knew I couldn't say the same for her. But we both smiled.

And then there's the three-year-old with terminal leukaemia; the trunk of his new toy elephant just got stuck in his nose, and his little bald head is bobbing about in an uncontrollable fit of giggles. But he doesn't know yet that he'll never get to grow old and raise a family of his own.

Finally, the first and only roommate I've ever had who's been my own age (maybe even my own decade); we'd say silly things when we were doped up on medications, and laugh about the ridiculousness of a world in which Kanye West thinks he can run for President.

She blew me away with her resilience, even as she got sicker and sicker. I just wish she could still be here today, to see all this support and love.

It's pretty hard not to feel like the lucky one when you meet people like this. I think what I'm trying to say is that sometimes; other people's stories have this intense power of putting our own struggles into harsh perspective.

We need to share our stories. I can't begin to tell you how much it means to share them with patients your own age.

So instead of asking "Why me?", I want to say thank you. Thank you to the taxi driver who told me not to be afraid of cancer. He said: "It's afraid of you."

Thank you to the nurses who let me play my iPod through the speakers at radiotherapy, putting up with far too many cheesy Disney songs.

Thank you to that friend who gave me a fridge magnet that says, "I can and I will. Watch me." And thank you. For being here, for listening to my story, and for supporting this great cause.

If I can become half the doctor that my team of neurosurgeons, oncologists, haematologists, palliative care and rehab physicians are, I'll be over the moon. No one really knows how well my treatment is going to work, but unlike too many in this confusing, unfair, yet beautiful world, I have a chance.

I owe it to those who don't to make the most of it.

Carpe Diem, right?


This is the transcript of a speech Tessa delivered at the Wharf4Ward lunch in Sydney.

'You Can' is a youth cancer program set up by Sony Foundation Australia in 2010. Its aim is to provide specialised youth cancer centres and services around Australia. Currently, young people aged between 15 and 24 have significantly poorer survival rates than children and older adults due to a lack of access to age appropriate care.

The long term aim of 'You Can' is to fund the establishment of youth cancer centres and services throughout the country. These will address the lack of improvement in cancer survival rates by providing a focus for medical collaboration amongst medical professionals, facilitating the development of clinical trials, encouraging specialist training and allowing for the delivery of a psychosocial support service equipped to deal with the issues specific to this age group.