real life

'As a teenager, I was the girl everyone thought was going to die. It taught me 7 lessons.'

What were you doing when you were nine years old? 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

What was your life like when you were small and the world was waiting for you? 

When I was nine years old, I was doing a lot of gymnastics and competing at state level. When I grew up, I wanted to be an Olympian. 

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Life was overflowing with possibilities, but what was waiting for me was cancer.

I was diagnosed with leukemia when I was nine and needed two and half years of chemotherapy to get into remission. My chance of survival was around 70 per cent. The odds were in my favour. 

My family approached my illness with a sort of 'just keep swimming' mentality. We didn’t sit around talking about the possibility that I could die, we all kept moving forward, and it must’ve been a clever approach because I made it through that dark time. 

By the age of 12, I was off chemo, in remission and ready to start high school. I had an appreciation of existence that perhaps most other students didn’t. 

I’d learnt that life should be lived and life should be full, so I packed mine with all sorts of wonderful adventures.

At school, I got involved in public speaking and debating. Outside of school, I took classes in acrobatics, singing, dancing, acting and fell intensely in love with Shakespeare and the theatre. 

I went skydiving in Cairns and swimming with sharks. My life was more than full – it was overflowing and it was marvelous. 


However, at the age of 16, my cancer returned and this time, the odds were not in my favour. 

I needed a bone marrow transplant, but there was no match, so my doctor decided to give me three years of chemo and my chance of surviving was about 17 per cent.

It’s strange to be the girl everyone expects to die. Cancer, like life’s many other ugly obstacles, is how I came to have seven important lessons permanently tattooed upon my soul:

1. The human body and mind are staggeringly extraordinary.

Our brains, and sometimes our bodies, will often scream at us that we can’t do something. 

But something from deep inside my solar plexus managed to over-ride the seemingly impossible. 

My body has survived physical and emotional torture, but I’m still here. I always have the loudest laugh in any room and I firmly believe that if I can survive impossible things, so can others. 

You can keep going, and it’s usually the times that you want to give up when it’s most important for you to hang on just a teensy bit longer.

2. Laugh.

It’s essential to find humour, especially when life is showing you its ugliest shades of grey. 

3. Friendship is everything.

You can get by easier with a little help from your friends. 

I didn’t fully realise how mature, generous and beautiful some of my friends were until I was dying.

My friends supported me, protected me, distracted me, made me laugh and gave me unconditional love through a multitude of acts of kindness. Kindness is love. Don’t underestimate the capacity for compassion within teenagers.

4. Art saves lives.

All things artistic and creative were as helpful as opiates when it came to my survival. 

Books, art, theatre, film and music were all essential companions on my cancer quest. 

I will eternally feel blessed and grateful to live in a world with so many creative people who share their talent with us and even help save lives. 

Music was a road-block to madness when I had months of insomnia and agonising pain. And... books! 

One of the best gifts my parents ever gave me was a love and appreciation of the written word. 

Books are the alternate realms we can step into when our reality is unbearable. Books contributed to my survival. Books are magic.


5. Your education is your responsibility.

I completed my HSC while I was on chemo and likely to die.

When I first got cancer, at the age of nine, I came first in my whole grade. 

I always did extremely well when it came to my education (you’ll have to read my book if you want to know exactly how well.)

If I could do this, then I’m not sure what excuses there are for any young person who is not prioritising their learning. It’s not up to parents and (shock, horror, gasp!) it’s not even up to teachers – if you want to learn, you’ll find a way to make it happen. 

I was verbally and physically bullied because of my illness, but I refused to let anything, or anyone, stop me from being educated.

If I can do it, so can anyone. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s sometimes the most important things in life that require us to work our hardest.

6. Check your empathy level. 

Cancer had a magical way of unveiling who people really were deep inside their core – myself included. 

I saw cancer unmask some hideous aspects of individuals and their true nature, but I also saw it unveil the most exquisite beauty and kindness within others. 

Seeing many people expose their true identities taught me the most important lesson of all – empathy is mandatory.

7. The little things in life are the best.

I apologise for my lack of originality with this one because how many times have we all heard this? 

We know it’s true, but are we taking moments in our day to grasp and appreciate the little things? 

Here are four things I’ve savoured in the last 10 minutes: a hug, a gorgeous pink lady apple, a skittish white butterfly flying past my window, and the startling, but awesome, screech of a rainbow lorikeet in a gumtree outside. 

The greatest of joy can be found in the tiny things. 

Of course, go on celebrating the big victories in life, but what would happen if we all learnt to get more excited and appreciative of the small things? 

I just gave you four things I acknowledged in the last 10 minutes. It’s your turn now.

Kirsty Everett’s incredible memoir, Honey Blood, is out now.

Feature Image: Supplied.