Meet Thomas, our new Footy Colours Day ambassador for 2021!
In December 2019, like many young people his age, Thomas was working part-time at McDonalds to earn some money to spend and enjoy the summer school holidays. He’d been complaining of ear pain for a couple of months and was having treatment from his GP, but it was nothing that Thomas or his family were overly concerned about at the time.
However, things changed on Christmas Day when Thomas arrived home after finishing his shift. His mother Christine noticed a large swollen area on his neck. “It was about the size of a golf ball or bigger, so I suspected he had been injured at work somehow.” Unfortunately, due to the holiday period, Thomas couldn’t get in to see his GP until January 11th. What followed were a range of blood tests, an ultrasound, and fine needle and core biopsies before the devastating confirmation on 22nd January 2020 that Thomas was suffering from cancer.
For both Thomas and Christine, the news was made all the more distressing as this was the exact same cancer that took Thomas’ father’s life at the age of 43 in 2012.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Thomas’ health took a turn for the worse – lethargy, intermittent fevers, weight loss and dizziness – all led to him being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 4BE at the end of January, and in February he began a long nine months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Christine says, “Thomas is a reasonably quiet young man, and he took his diagnosis, treatment and ongoing recovery in his stride. I would describe him as resilient and courageous beyond his years. And apart from overcoming formidable physical challenges, he has also shown immense mental strength considering his father passed away at such a young age from the same disease.”
Thomas was unable to attend school from January to October 2020, but Christine was determined to ensure his education carried on in whatever format possible. She saw it not only as a distraction from the day-to- day challenges of dealing with his illness, but also as a way of maintaining some sense of normality, developing new interests, discovering new things, and most importantly staying connected to his future dreams and becoming the person he wants to be.
During chemotherapy, Thomas benefitted from Fight Cancer Foundation’s education support program that allowed him to receive 1:1 tuition, assistance with homework and guidance for university applications and further study post-school. “The program provided Thomas with a safety net. Being in his HSC years it was so reassuring for him to have help on hand to assist with work that he had to teach himself as he was not working at the same pace as his peers and not receiving face to face tuition at school.”
Thomas is now 18, currently in Year 12 and back attending school at a partial rate. He has a strong interest in Hospitality and Real Estate at school and sees his future career path possibly taking one of those directions. He loves his music and is a one-eyed Wests Tigers fan. Although in a much better place than he was a year ago, Thomas continues to struggle with the side effects of his treatment, but education helps him maintain a positive focus on his future.
Based on her experience with Thomas, Christine is passionate in her belief that “every child deserves a quality education and when cancer disrupts that education it is very unsettling, especially in your final years of school. It leaves you very lost and unsure of what you can achieve in the future. Children who have cancer already have the biggest battle of their life on their plate. Please host a Footy Colours Day event to help them have continuity of education and enable them to chase their dreams.”