Rebekah Stott's remarkable journey, from cancer diagnosis to World Cup


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Jul 29, 2023

Rebekah Stott's remarkable journey, from cancer diagnosis to World Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment is a life-changing experience. It's perhaps the hardest thing that most going through it will ever undertake. And that's

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Receiving a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment is a life-changing experience. It's perhaps the hardest thing that most going through it will ever undertake. And that's to say nothing of adding the extra complications of experiencing this sudden emotional and physical load amid a global pandemic.

But in February 2021, that was the situation confronting New Zealand and Brighton & Hove Albion defender Rebekah Stott.

Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where she received four months of chemotherapy, was largely on lockdown given the immunocompromised patients within. Relatively new construction, the building's exterior is a striking display of glass whereas inside, it's all white walls, bright lights, and clean lines -- with a bit of wood detailing splashed around -- centred around an atrium that, when it's empty, feels very empty.

Fast forward just over two years, and Stott's world is very different; the sterility of a locked-down hospital has been replaced by the noise, crowds and chaos of a packed-out Eden Park. She has not only completed a return to football -- she did that, five months after diagnosis and mere days before she announced she was in remission -- but is also now a part of New Zealand's FIFA Women's World Cup squad, starting both of their games so far at this year's tournament.

On Sunday, the biggest game in Football Ferns history awaits: A mammoth clash with Switzerland in Dunedin, with progression from the group stages of a home World Cup on the line.

More importantly, though, she's still cancer free, receiving her two-year checkups at "Peter Mac" while most players at the World Cup were making their way Down Under or already well-ensconced in preparatory camps. Following a warm-up fixture between New Zealand and Italy days out from the tournament, Stott connected with Cecilia Salvai, who herself has experienced Hodgkin's.

Natalie Gedra waxes lyrical about the greatest woman to ever play the game -- Brazil's Marta Vieira da Silva.

"My motivation going through chemo was to get back on the field," Stott said. "Playing in a home World Cup was the best motivation I could have had. It's super special to me to be back on the field. I just hope I can contribute and we can get out of the group."

Amid this remarkable return to football, the impact that the 30-year-old has made stretches far beyond the field. Her journey, as well as the generosity she has displayed in documenting it, has served to inspire and motivate -- in particular young people like her, who are even more keen for encouragement that a diagnosis doesn't spell the end of their hopes and dreams.

In February 2022, as she returned to the field for New Zealand in the SheBelieves Cup, Stott finally had the chance to meet U.S. fan Alison Gale, who had received her own lymphoma diagnosis shortly after Stott and followed and exchanged messages with her about their respective journeys. When Stott went on as a substitute, Gale held up a sign saying "Go Stotty!! Thanks for helping me beat Hodgkin's!!"


Beyond the inspiration and insight into her experiences, Stott has helped young people with cancer undergoing treatment in Australia in a very tangible and ongoing way through her "beat it. by Stotty" packs.

Featuring a backpack, beanie hat and several products Stott herself used during treatment, such as heat bags, snacks and skin care, the packs were inspired by her own time in hospitals, "designed to help provide a sense of comfort and organisation during an incredibly uncertain time." They are envisioned as something that can be kept on hand, ready to go at a moment's notice, taken to appointments in order to make the whole process a bit more manageable.

"I love my pack -- everything has a purpose -- and the pockets mean that I have space to put all my documents, making me more organised than I usually am," explained one young recipient.

Driven by how valuable the pack and its contents had been to her, and her desire to help give others the same comforts, Stott first purchased the bags and their contents before packing and distributing them herself; at one point, the array of completed packs took up an entire room in her Melbourne lodgings. To help fund her enterprise, she auctioned jerseys of some of football's biggest names on her website -- match-worn shirts of Steph Catley, Leah Williamson, Jessica Fishlock, and Marta all available at one time or another, as well as a signed Megan Rapinoe OL Reign shirt.

Eventually Stott found a partner in charity Canteen Australia, which supports young people living with cancer, to distribute them across Youth Cancer Services (YCS) -- which provides specialist treatment and support services for cancer patients aged 15-25 years in major hospitals. According to recent figures, nearly three-quarters of young cancer patients in Australia are now being treated or supported through YCS.

"It's been incredible," Stott said. "We've got the bags to Canteen in Australia and they're slowly starting to get the bags out to cancer patients. It's been really cool, I've had a lot of feedback and photos and stuff. It's cool to be able to learn from my experience and what I would have wanted in that situation, and to be able to provide that for some young people going through something not very good."

Everyday heroes 🫶🏼 It was so nice to meet and share stories with the rangatahi from Canteen Aotearoa 🤍

While the concept of such packs isn't new, Stott's have been expressly designed per both her needs and aesthetic. She went so far as to source the black backpacks specifically because she wanted something that was stylish, understated and wouldn't look out of place in day-to-day life.

"It doesn't look like a hospital bag, even though that's what it's used for," one recipient said. "What I can say is the bags are amazing," added another. "Love that they are a backpack rather than a bag, and a fabulous one at that."

To this point, 126 packs have been distributed by various YCS branches across the country, free of charge, with some staff stashing a few in their offices for any new patients. "The packs are a fantastic addition to the service provided for young people with cancer," a Queensland-based health professional, whose comment was provided by YCS, told ESPN. "Patients are happy to carry them, are filled with great items that are useful during treatment and they are the one thing that the young person can use to hold all their information and special items that make hospital stays and day visits easier for them.

"The packs are also awesome for patients who move between locations -- home, friends and family (depending on how they feel and who is looking after them). All the essentials they need are in one place and they don't have to worry about remembering everything if it's kept in the bag."

"Having worked with adolescent and young adult cancer patients for many years I can appreciate the enormity of a cancer diagnosis at a very vulnerable life stage," a member of the NSW/ACT YCS added.

"It is an overwhelming and scary time. Having the beat it. pack is a real game changer."