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Alisi beats cancer three times on her journey to graduation

When Alisi Jack Kaufusi enrolled to study with TAFE Queensland, the last thing she expected was for her cancer to relapse.

While academic graduations are a celebration of the culmination of all the time, energy, and work that students’ put into gaining their qualifications, Alisi's took on a whole new meaning.

At 29 years of age, Alisi never thought she would have ovarian cancer, let alone be battling the disease for the third time in four years.

“I was first diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in late 2017, at 24 years old. I had to undergo a nine-hour-long life-saving surgery with a gruelling recovery and six months of chemotherapy,” explains Alisi.

“After the surgery, I had to learn how to walk, eat and talk again, things we take for granted. It was tough, and my two-week hospital stay turned into five.”

Despite her enormous health challenges, the former receptionist didn’t let her cancer diagnosis stop her from living, enrolling to study for the Diploma of Business (BSB50210) in 2020 while she was in remission.

But sadly, more bad news came when cancer reoccurred in April 2020, meaning more surgeries and another six months of chemo. She was cleared of the life-threatening disease for the second time in October and graduated with her diploma in business that same year.

In 2021, she enrolled to study for the Diploma of Human Resource Management (BSB50320) after being introduced to the topic during her business diploma. Her third diagnosis came – meaning more chemotherapy and other treatments.

“Honestly, it felt like I was taking two steps ahead and taking five steps back each time we found out the cancer was back,” she said. “It’s been very challenging, not just for myself but my family and friends.”

Despite the struggle of balancing her studies with her treatments, Alisi remained committed to her diploma and was determined to get qualified so she could start an ordinary life post-cancer.

“I would never want anyone to ever go through what I had to. The impact of what cancer does is devastating physically and mentally,” continues Alisi.

“Cancer was never going to beat me. It was hard, but I was determined, and I continued living as normal a life as possible while studying for a long and sustainable career post-cancer.”

Despite the difficulties of undertaking and recovering from chemotherapy treatments, Alisi said her teachers and classmates helped ensure that she could participate in classes, get her assignments in on time and pass her exams.

“I enjoyed the learning environment, going to class and working with my classmates and teachers and I wouldn’t have gotten through my studies without their support. They went the extra mile and always checked in to see if I was okay and give me more time to complete assignments.”

“When I felt unwell from my treatments and couldn’t attend classes, my classmates would write notes for me and organise study sessions to go over what I missed and give me that extra help. I owe my teachers and classmates a massive debt of gratitude for how they ensured I didn’t fall behind.”

Helping her manage the mental toll was her family, friends, teachers, and classmates, who helped her officially graduate with a diploma in human resources management in 2022.

“Pandemic aside, the last two years were tough as I studied during my chemotherapy treatments. I refused to defer my studies during my diplomas because my goal was to finish studying by the end of 2021 - and I DID IT!”

Alisi has now finished her studies, finished her treatments and has recently started working in a human resources role after three years of hard work – in and out of the classroom.

“It was all worth it, and TAFE helped me by providing the facilities, tools and skills that I needed to get job-ready. I’m going to keep working hard, and I hope to be working in a senior human resources position one day.”

She recently attended her graduation, surrounded by her family and friends, and received her diploma while representing both sides of her family’s culture.

“It was such an honour to walk across the stage wearing two very special garments that celebrate my culture and family,” she says.

“I wore a handmade Korowai (Māori cloak) designed by my mother to represent her Māori bloodline, and I also wore my great-great grandmother’s Taovala (Tongan handwoven mat) to represent my father’s Tongan bloodline.”

“I’m so grateful that I had my whanau (family) there to share this milestone. Wearing my mother’s Korowai and my great-great grandmother’s Taovala just made it that extra special,” concludes Alisi.