JUST a few weeks away from graduating from university after five years of studying Law and Commerce, Zara Fasso-Opie was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma in April 2019.
Instead of walking across a stage in a gorgeous dress, she received her graduation certificate in the post, while undergoing treatment in a hospital gown at St Vincent's Hospital.
Zara was just 24 at the time, and said it was the staff that really got her through. Now, she wants to give back to the hospital, and the staff, who gave her a new perspective on life.
The youngest daughter in a family of five children, Zara has had her share of near death experiences - tipping a cup of tea on herself at the age of 18 months and spending months in a burns suit - and then nearly drowning on a waterslide in Hong Kong at the age of three.
Following her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis, Zara spent a considerable time at St Vincent’s Cancer Centre whilst receiving treatment and, now, as an outpatient.
Her sister Kaitlyn says Zara is nothing but persistent. "Zara was so keen to join a Run Melbourne team and raise money for St Vincent's... but they didn't have one. So, she kept bugging them until they decided to set one up!"
Image: Zara at the finish line of the Swimland Great Australia Day 1.4km swim in Brighton on 26 January, 2020.
St Vincent’s Cancer Patient Services Clerk, Catalina Valenzuela, was the lucky recipient of Zara's phone calls.
"One of our patients, Zara, is a swimmer and a runner, and told me she wanted to be part of a team for Run Melbourne to support St Vincent’s Cancer Centre," Catalina said.
"Zara was definitely the inspiration for my colleagues and me to join her in a team.”
An email was subsequently sent out, and, so far, seven people have registered to take part in Run Melbourne on behalf of St Vincent's.
Zara has always been a competitive swimmer, but when swims became virtual during COVID, she turned her attention to group runs.
“I’ve enjoyed running - it's such a different feeling to swimming, much more of a full body impact," she said.
"Having had cancer has made me very aware of my health and the importance of fitness for both my physical and mental health.
"In terms of my treatment, the support I received from the team at St Vincent’s was amazing. It’s the staff that really make the difference when you’ve hit rock bottom and you’re questioning everything. That’s why I wanted to get a team together to do something to give back: so I could show my appreciation for the care I have received."
Catalina said most of the team aren’t runners so they’ve registered for the five-kilometre distance. “We’ll probably do a combination of running and walking. It’s not going to be competitive, it’s about having fun," she said.
For more information, or to join the St Vincent’s Cancer Centre Run Melbourne team on Sunday, 25 July, email Catalina.Valenzuela@svha.org.au
Image 1: Mother's Day Classic, the Tan, 3.5km run, 9 May 2021
Image 2: Sandy Point Half Marathon Summer Series 5km run with university friend Bethany Davey (left), 25 Feb 2021