Sharni Taylor – Winner of the 2016 Shelley Wood Award
Each year, the Shelley Wood Award is given to a survivor that also has experienced the effects of Cancer, yet against all odds, fights back and overcomes
their life circumstances and looks beyond themselves to the welfare of others, to bring hope, courage and inspiration. This year the award was given
to Sharni Taylor and she shares her inspiring story with us below.
“Having worked in health and beauty since leaving school I knew that I wanted to study further to gain more qualifications and so I moved to Sydney in
2013 to study to become a qualified Naturopath. However, working fulltime and studying at night proved to be a lot more stressful than I anticipated.
I was run down, tired and stressed for much of the time.
So, it came as no surprise that I developed a seemingly harmless mouth ulcer in early 2014. Putting it down to stress, I tried treating the ulcer myself,
with medication and then with the help of various doctors. Before I knew it, six months had gone by and the ulcer had still not healed.
After consultation with a specialist in Gosford, it was decided immediate surgery was required to remove the chronic ulcer and, although there was a risk
it was cancerous, I was told not to worry too much until we had the results of pathology.
Soon afterwards I received the news I was dreading: I had a Squama Cell Carcinoma and required another urgent surgery as they could not be sure they had
removed all of the cancer cells the first time. I was told I would need to set aside a further six months for treatment and recovery and, as a result,
had to quit my job and put my studies on hold.
An additional malignant tumour was found during my second surgery and by September 2014 I was scheduled for my third surgery after discovering that the
cancer had spread. This last surgery lasted almost 10 hours and the news afterwards was not good. The cancer was much worse than was first anticipated,
70% of the lymph nodes removed contained cancer cells. After the surgery, I went straight into the Intensive Care Unit unable to breathe on my own
for a few days followed by a week in the Severe Burns Unit with lots of physiotherapy, learning to eat & use my left hand again.
Just when I thought the worst was behind me I was hit with the news of what they discovered during my surgery - the cancer was at Stage 3 and required
immediate radiation and chemotherapy treatment. I was bluntly told that I had 3 months to beat the cancer otherwise there was nothing more that could
I became very ill from the moment of that first dose of radiation and chemotherapy. I was sleeping for 20 hours a day with the other 4 spent trying to
eat soft food, walking a slow lap of the hospital ward and spending time in the bathroom. For three weeks this was my daily life – a constant haze
of sleep, pain and nausea. My weight plummeted from 57kg to just 45kg and it became imperative to my survival that I try and regain this lost weight.
Being unable to tolerate even the simplest foods meant that a feeding tube had to be placed down my throat, causing mouth ulcerations so severe that I
had to be sedated in order for my body to deal with them.
I begged the nursing staff to remove the painful feeding tube and once they finally did came a new challenge - we had to find another way to get much-needed
nutrients into my depleted body if I was to continue my recovery at home.
Thinking outside the square, my parents used find-a-word puzzles to help me work through sipping the weight gain drinks. In an effort to distract me from
the nausea and pain I felt, I would find a word in the puzzle and then take another sip. It took around half an hour for me to drink just one portion
of the drink this way, but with the distraction of the puzzles it seemed a little easier.
I gradually regained strength at home and was soon able to walk to the end of the driveway and back on most days – an enormous achievement for me at the
time. As I continued to get stronger these walks extended to the end of the street and, eventually, around my neighbourhood after six weeks.
Having been so unwell and missing my job and study so much, I was determined to continue doing something, even though I still wasn’t well enough to work.
Knowing how important this was to me, my Mum drove me an hour each way to TAFE so I could attend classes for my Diploma of Beauty Therapy.
Progress was slow and sometimes it felt like I was taking one step forward, two steps back. But with the support of my family, friends and TAFE teachers
I was able to continue my studies and managed to inch my way back into having a productive life.
After completing my diploma I was given the opportunity to become an Endermologie Trainer, teaching at various clinics across Australia. On one such training
visit, I worked with the team at Cronulla Skin Sanctuary and fell in love with the area and the wonderful people at the clinic. I knew then that this
was where I wanted to rebuild my life.”
Today, cancer-free, Sharni can be found in the Endermologie treatment room at Cronulla Skin Sanctuary. Sharni aspires to provide hope, care and support
for people who are in difficult and challenging circumstances. With her experience and special interest in helping those dealing with cancer and those
in the “too hard basked”, she is driven by her desire to free her clients from debilitating pain, stress, scars and other conditions. Her inspiring
story of determination makes her a worthy recipient of this year’s Shelley Wood Award. It gives her the drive to provide professional support and advice
for others to create and lead the life they want to live.
Article as told to Rhonda Mackay