Most young adults spend their 18th birthday at the pub, celebrating their attainment of adulthood with family and friends. Laughs are had, stories are told and, typically, too many drinks are had.
Molly Dawson didn’t get to experience this traditional Aussie custom, however. By the time she turned 18, Molly had been in and out of hospital, receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for six months.
Diagnosed in April 2019 with Hodgkin lymphoma at age 17, Molly felt as if death was knocking at her door.
September was globally recognised as Lymphoma Awareness Month. Molly is one of 600 Australians who are diagnosed annually with Hodgkin lymphoma, which has a 93 per cent survival rate.
Her desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps into a modelling career was slipping through her fingers. She lost her hair and her health, and spent countless days, including her 18th birthday, sick from the radiation and chemotherapy. Cancer forced her to sit on the sideline while she watched her peers attend social events and achieve milestones they took for granted.
“I had to push through intense physical pain and emotional turmoil … I had to make sacrifices that no teenager should ever have to make,” Molly says.
Forced to travel from her hometown of Bundaberg to receive treatment for the cancer, Molly spent the majority of 2019 at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.
“The news of my diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks … undergoing treatment felt like a death sentence,” she says.
From the driver’s seat to the side of her hospital bed, Molly had her mum’s hand to hold throughout the gruelling journey. Shortly following her 18th birthday, after a year of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and countless trips and overnight stays in hospital rooms smelling of sanitiser and chemicals, Molly was declared cancer-free.
“I summoned every ounce of courage and strength I had to fight back,” she says.
“I emerged from the darkness of cancer treatment with a newfound appreciation for life, a deeper sense of empathy and compassion for others. I had overcome the impossible, and nothing could ever take that away from me.”
Four years after diagnosis and three years cancer-free, Molly is a proud survivor. She works intermittently with Cancer Council and Lifeblood, and has also been an ambassador for Canteen Australia, National Youth Cancer, Sony Foundation Australia, and countless similar charities and organisations. She is often seen on podiums, sharing her journey and reaching out to Australians who are suffering or have suffered from cancer. Her survival is a beacon of hope to other patients to keep fighting.
Although Molly’s hair grew back and her beauty shines inside and out, she decided against a future in modelling and chose a career on the other side of the camera. The 22-year-old moved to the Sunshine Coast last year and now works for Australia Zoo as a wildlife photographer.
She walks through the gates of Australia’s most-famous zoo every day with a smile. She says she feels an immense passion for her job where no day is like the one before.
So, it comes as no surprise that Molly’s childhood hero was Steve Irwin. The Aussie legend has been an inspiration to Molly throughout her lifetime.
“The enthusiasm of my colleagues, the happiness of the patrons and the joy the animals give me make me a proud wildlife warrior,” she says.