Sport

Life an up and Down battle

by
June 14, 2018

Fiona Down was diagnosed with breast cancer last August. Pictured with daughter Meiah, Down is back playing A-grade netball at Tallygaroopna with the Redlegs hosting a pink day this weekend.

With Fiona Down missing last year's grand final after being diagnosed with breast cancer, teammates made a cut out (back, second from right) of her to complete their side.

Tallygaroopna's Fiona Down had a goal of being back playing netball after going through treatment for breast cancer.

Fiona Down celebrated her 300th match in August last year alongside Bec Humphrey (right). Just weeks later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Down is pictured with children Harper, Meiah and Tayah.

A casual glance at a shot of Tallygaroopna’s A-grade grand final side last year will spot Fiona Down.

That is until closer inspection shows that Down is actually a cardboard cutout her teammates created.

The star midcourter was unable to take the court on the biggest day of the Kyabram District Netball League year after being diagnosed with breast cancer just a few weeks prior in August.

Down, 34, was blindsided by the diagnosis and devastated not to be with her teammates and friends on grand final day.

‘‘I wasn’t able to play the grand final, which was the most hard thing in the world when you’re into netball finals, let alone a grand final, and you’re not able to play because you’re in hospital having surgery,’’ she said.

‘‘It was definitely nothing that was on my radar at 34, you’re thinking that’s something that happens later on in life, but to discover you can be quite young and at 34, it’s one of your worst nightmares.’’

But with the Redlegs valuing their 300-game player so much, they carried the cutout of Down wearing a wing attack patch to every formality across the day.

She was on the sidelines as the wind blew up dust at the Mooroopna Recreation Reserve netball courts and as her side lost to Nagambie in extra time.

‘‘I saw the pictures and I was a bit teary, but to kind of physically be there (was incredible),’’ Down said.

‘‘The photo that hits home is one at the national anthem where the girls are lining up on the footy field with me next to them.’’

Grand final day was the first time that many began to find out about Down’s diagnosis and calls and messages of support started coming in from that moment forward.

Her journey from that day to returning to play in round one this year against the Lakers this year has been remarkable and an accurate display of Down’s positive mindet.

After surgery in September, she had more treatment at the end of October before finishing chemotherapy in Janurary in a process where she travelled to Melbourne with husband Colin alongside her.

‘‘I’d go back and forth for tests and scans and that happened quite fast and sometimes not fast enough and other times too fast because I just wanted to be able to process it all,’’ Down said.

She was back at netball trials just a few weeks after chemotherapy, making sure not to overdo herself.

But returning to a team sport was, although less important, another motivating factor alongside returning home healthy to three daughters Tayah, 6, Harper, 4, and Meiah, 20 months.

‘‘Apart from my family and three kids and hubby, netball for me was another thing to say ‘that’s what I’m going to do, that’s where I want to be’ because I love sport,’’ Down said.

‘‘It gave me the drive to keep going and get back to what was going to be the new normal because life doesn’t go back to normal.’’

A consequence of treatment meant Down was forced to stop breastfeeding Meiah early.

‘‘I was breastfeeding at the time (and it could have been) something as simple as a blocked duct, but ended up being a bit more serious than that,’’ she said.

‘‘Huge challenge for her (Meiah) and me and quite emotional and mental because I wasn’t ready to stop feeding her, it wasn’t something that I’d chosen to stop, but I had no choice.

‘‘You still sit with the emotional side of what breast cancer has taken from you and that’s one of the things it’s taken from me (breastfeeding Meiah) ... but then I have to stop and think what are the opportunities it has given me.’’

Like many faced with a life-threatening illness, Down’s outlook on life has changed.

Unsurprisingly one of the key examples of this related to netball after Down accepted the role to coach the KDNL’s interleague side in Colac this year.

‘‘I originally said no and turned it down because I thought I had to think of myself and my health and any other day I would have said yes at the drop of a hat,’’ she said.

‘‘Colin said ‘have you actually really thought about it?’ and I thought I would actually like to do it and why not, I may never get the opportunity to do it again.

‘‘My motto is ‘life’s too short’ and there are lots of days where anxiety and thoughts of re-occurances cross my mind all the time and it’s horrible.’’

Along with urging people of all ages to be alert for any signs of breast cancer, Down said a key learning point was realising there was nothing wrong with feeling upset.

‘‘I can still get choked up about it, but it’s good to get behind a lot of these things (fundraising) and ride the emotions and now I know that it’s okay to get upset and cry and the support around me has been amazing,’’ she said.

Reliving her diagnosis is hard, but she will be at the forefront of people’s minds on Sautrday when Tallygaroopna hosts a pink day to raise breast cancer funds and awareness.

Like the chirpy person Down is, she wants it to be done in an enjoyable way and steering clear from negatives.

‘‘I was a bit hesitant to do it with the personal and emotional connection with it, but then I thought why not it’s always going to be personal and emotional, so let’s have a go,’’ she said.

‘‘The girls are getting dressed up in pink for some cool warm-up outfits, so I think it’ll be a really good time to get out and promote breast cancer and have some fun with it at the same time.

‘‘The whole point for me is to make a statememnt and make people stop and think what are they doing and then create a conversation.’’

Tallygaroopna will be going pink against Lancaster on Saturday to fundraise for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Donations can be made at https://fundraise.nbcf.org.au/fundraiser/tallyredlegs

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