For the last five years, Dana Vulin has woken every morning and made a choice.
She could fight – really fight – or she could wade through the tsunami-like waters threatening to overwhelm her, keeping her head bobbing above the tide, but doing little to bring her body above the horizon line.
Everyday, amid life-threatening health complications, the piqued interest of an entire nation and its media and the knowledge that there was enough evil in the world to want her dead, Dana Vulin woke up, got up and kept moving.
Dana Vulin speaks quickly, her voice full of rushing passion. She doesn’t see a need to beat around the bush, nor dance around her pain, her point or her principles.
She’s blunt and sharp, an oxymoron in every sense of the word, a woman who lived through what doctors initially deemed the unliveable, only to come out the other side with a biting need to tell her story.
And tell her story she is, in her new memoir, Worth Fighting For.
“I always say this, but [that night] is burnt into my mind,” Vulin tells Mamamia from her home in Perth.
That night, the one Vulin says she relives “over and over and over again”, is one many Australians may remember, etched into their own memories, so violent was the attack on the then 25-year-old.
In the early hours of a February morning in 2012, Vulin woke to the steps of strangers in her home. One of the intruders was a woman called Natalie who had spent the weeks prior harassing Vulin in the misguided belief she was having a relationship with her estranged husband. With little warning, and in the throes an ice-fuelled rage, Natalie doused Vulin in methylated spirits and set her alight. It would be an act that, three years later, would see her sentenced to 17 years jail.
“Waving her hand in a zig-zagging motion, she doused me with the chemical, hitting my face, arms, chest, everything from the waist up. The methylated spirits caught the naked flame in my hand and suddenly my whole world was on fire,” Vulin writes of that night in her book.
In a moment, Dana Vulin was enveloped by burns to 60 per cent of her body.
Recalling that night, Vulin says, wasn’t difficult. After all, she’s been back there consistently over the last five years.
“Writing that bit wasn’t as hard as I imagined, because I still live my burn everyday. I still feel it, I still have surgeries all the time. It’s not reminding me of it, because it’s always there.”
Harder than reliving that night, Vulin concedes, was the choice she had to make every day not just to live, but to live well.
“It was really hard in the beginning, I never wanted to die [but] it would have been easier to die. My family fought so hard for me, my surgeons, too, and the hospital system. My family gave up everything to make sure I got better, how dare I not fight for them?
“I made a decision to survive. Why would I fight for that to then live a sh*tty life? If I am going to live anyway, do I want that life to be a good life, or a sh*tty life? There was also deep down somewhere inside of me something that knew success is my best revenge.”
For almost three years Vulin wore a compression suit and mask, hiding the scars and keeping intensity of the battle she was fighting, mostly, under wraps. It was no easy feat, either, with the scrutiny and glare of a hungry media mob suffocating and pervasive.
“It was unbelievable,” Vulin says, of the media’s interest in her story. “It made my recovery harder. Most survivors don’t get burnt on purpose. I had to go through being burned on purpose, the public trial, the media and then I got cancer.
“When it rained it poured.”
At 27, while already living a nightmare, another saw fit to rear its head. This time, it was cervical cancer, as if, at the tender age of 27, Vulin’s mind, body and spirit could take much more.
“At this stage, I was still looking so frail and fragile [and] I felt numb for a while. I had a little bit of fear because we didn’t know how bad it was for a while [and] I was so weak and damaged there was no way I would have survived chemo and radiation.”
The diagnosis was good. She had an operation to remove the abnormal cell, and it worked. To this day, her survival through cancer and her survival through life-altering burns means all she wants – more than anything – is to help people. And in wanting that, she says, there’s no room left for hate.
“I learnt not to hate, because believe you me, if I was going through this journey and focusing my energy on hate, I wouldn’t have half of the recovery I have now. It consumes your mind and body and it can get you nowhere.
“The fact I don’t give [Natalie] any power, is power to me.”
Every so often in these last five years that tidal wave, the one full of setbacks and health issues, would come back ready to pelt Dana Vulin, dump her and drown her.
So, she would simply dive through it.
Every so often in these last five years bad news has come knocking at Dana Vulin’s door, painting her future with brushstrokes of bleak, terrifying uncertainty.
So, she would welcome it.
“I wasn’t lucky,” she wants you to know, in her characteristically brazen way.
“I worked my goddamn tits to the core off. I went above and beyond. I lost half of my 20s. I will always have scars, but to what extent is up to me.”
This much is true. Dana Vulin may have scars, but they are much less a marker of evil and much more a marker of how to overcome it.
Dana Vulin’s new book, Worth Fighting For, available from August 28 in all good bookstores.