They were the three words he didn’t want to hear: acute myeloid leukaemia. But there he was, sitting in a doctor’s surgery, alone, listening as they were said to him. Followed by words like: diagnosis; chemotherapy. Cancer. It was November 27, 2014 and aged only 21, the life of Kyran Dixon — a young man whose life then revolved around football and university study — had changed in an instant. No longer was he thinking about the study he needed to complete, or when he could catch up with his friends, or whether he should hit the gym that night. He was thinking only of survival.
“Looking back on it, it’s still a shock,” the now 24 year old says.
“I was by myself when the doctor told me I had leukaemia and as a young person you didn’t ever think it will happen to you ... the hardest part was breaking the news to family and friends.
“In that first moment, there was definitely a bit of despair, but then I clicked pretty quickly into that subconscious mode where it’s not about what you can’t control, it’s about what you can control going forward and from there.”
In fact, as he was in a hospital bed recovering from his first rounds of chemotherapy treatment, the talented footballer made a promise to himself: “I remember sitting in hospital and my family and friends were saying, ‘Oh, it’s so sad you won’t be able to play football’, but in my mind I had it that I started chemotherapy in November, so I’d finish that in March and I’d be back playing by July. People thought I was crazy, but I did it. I did come back and play footy within eight months and that’s quicker than some people recovering from an ACL (knee) injury.”
Incredibly, this was the second bout of cancer he had survived, after beating a bone tumour in his hip as an 11 year old.
That’s the thing about life, it can set you on a course you never realised you’d be on. But the thing is, when that happens, you need the life skills and the determination to help you through. And for Dixon, many of those life skills had been acquired during his high school years attending Mount Carmel College in Rosewater.
“I learnt a lot through each stage of my schooling and finishing up at Mount Carmel College was the culmination. I definitely learnt a lot especially about my own values, which I’ve been able to take ahead with what I’m doing now with my community work,” he says, adding that he had been a preschooler at Kalaya Children’s Centre in Queenstown before completing his primary education at Lefevre Peninsula Primary School. “Mount Carmel College was really supportive of students and they have a really good ethos because they promote community and helping others, so it was a good place to go to school. One of the key things at Mount Carmel for me was the opportunity for leadership that it gave me ... it instilled in me a lot of confidence and pride. The school’s motto is love and dignity and they really encouraged us students to show dignity and respect to all different walks of life. It is important and that’s something I have carried forward after graduating in 2010.”
One way that has played out is that he has become a founding member of SAHMRI’s innovative Aboriginal Youth Cancer Advisory Group, and he promotes healthy lifestyle choices among young indigenous people. And after encouraging the Port Adelaide Magpies to join in the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave in 2015, he remains a charity ambassador for the SANFL club.
This has earned Dixon praise at all levels. Last year he was named as the SA NAIDOC Young Person of the Year, as well as being the Port Adelaide Enfield 2017 Young Citizen of the Year. And earlier this year he was given the great honour of being named as the 2018 SA Young Australian of the Year.
As a Kaurna and Narungga man, he is particularly proud of his work helping other young indigenous South Australians deal with a life-changing cancer diagnosis. “For anyone going through cancer, the financial impact is the last thing you worry about, but for some indigenous families it can be quite tough, especially coming in from remote communities and being disconnected from family and country as well,” he says.
“We’re trying to find ways to make that more of an easy process. If we can help to alleviate some of those burdens, it helps the process of getting better. I’m also working with different charities to collaborate and try to achieve ways to make it all more culturally appropriate.”
After graduating from Mount Carmel College in 2010, Dixon undertook a tertiary entry program at the University of Adelaide, with hopes of becoming a sport scientist. But from his first politics lecture he found his true calling and instead studied a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in politics, history and international studies, a degree he continued while fighting cancer.
“My mother was also studying for her law degree and we studied together at the same time,” he says. “We were living at home together and studying together and then we graduated two days apart. Eventually, I hope to get into politics and make an impact.
“What I’ve learnt from my family and from my elders as well is that you should use your experience to help others.
“And, naturally, you want to inspire your sisters and your brothers as well, so you will always be trying to help the next generation to become what they want to be in life. It comes part and parcel of who I am.” Today, Dixon works as a consultant at global firm Ernst & Young and continues to live in his beloved Western suburbs. He plays in the forward and midfield for the North Haven Football Club (with whom he won a premiership last year) and enjoys the mental challenge that sport brings.
“Sport is just one avenue, but it allows a sense of purpose when you face challenging times,” he says. “Since (my beating cancer), I have had some fortune, but going through that tough time has made everything that I’ve been able to achieve since then even more special.” And he continues to stay connected to the Mount Carmel College community.
“I still keep in contact with teachers and they are incredibly proud of me,” he says.
“Looking back now, school feels like yesterday, but I still go down and get involved in their Reconciliation events and do some speaking events as an alumni. Overall, Catholic education allows the doors to open for lots of students so they can see what is possible, and that they have the chance to see what they can become.”
Dixon is a shining example of that.
Source: The Advertiser, Written by Liz Walsh