Cancer survivor wants to swim for Australia

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

90 - The percentage of one lung Sally Fyfield had removed
2500 - Number of women Sally beat in Lorne's Pier to Pub swim

Sally Fyfield knows now she should have gone to hospital sooner. People in their early 20s aren’t supposed to be short of breath - let alone an athlete who wants to swim for Australia.

“In your 20s you think you’re invincible,” says the 22-year-old, a four-year RACV member. But by April last year, Sally and her coach Mark Tate realised something was wrong.

“We noticed signs of heavy fatigue and reduced lung capacity,” Mark says.

Sally visited a GP, who suggested low iron levels were the cause. Restoring them didn’t help and by July she was in a wheelchair.

The fear was she had motor neurone disease.

“I’d lost my speech a bit ... My biggest fear was not being able to use my legs and that happened.”

Sally only took up swimming at age 12 but had established herself as a star on the rise. She regularly achieved podium finishes in pool and open water events and Mark believed she was on the cusp of national qualifying before she fell ill.

CT scans in August revealed Sally had cancer: a rare carcinoid tumour.

With the tumour’s removal, she began to regain health, but at a cost. Sally’s right lung had collapsed and two of three lobes - around 90% of the lung’s capacity - were removed. Doctors said her swimming career was all but over.

“My dad said: ‘swimmers are tough - show them how tough you are’.”

Despite having to learn to breathe with half of her usual lung capacity, Sally was training three weeks after surgery and competing two months later.

Then her application to receive classification to compete in the Paralympics was rejected.

“If I’d had a lung transplant I’d be able to have a classification,” she says.

“When I realised no one’s done it before, it made sense. They’re not going to have a classification if no one’s needed it.”

Mark says Sally’s current focus is on regaining her fitness, strength and “becoming competitive again.” Sally remains determined to seek a Paralympic classification and to fulfil her dream to represent Australia.

Written by Kathryn Kernohan, Photos Meredith O'Shea
September 01, 2015