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The story I wish I didn’t have to tell

Siren Collaborator Rachel Bach (By The White Line) shares the journey she’s on with the incredible Rebekah Stott as she battles Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In the middle of Melbourne’s second lockdown last year, a package arrived on my doorstep. Inside, I found a white football jersey. The number six was printed on the back, with a name above it – Stott. A few weeks earlier, I had posted a picture on Instagram of my jersey collection, while I moved house. Upon seeing it, Rebekah Stott sent me a message, telling me that I needed to add a Kiwi shirt. She was playing football in England at the time. That didn’t stop her organising a family member in Australia to send me one of her match shirts.

If that doesn’t tell you enough about the kind of person Stotty is, allow me to elaborate. She’s without a doubt one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She’s upbeat, she’s hilarious, and she’s also incredibly humble. Over the past five years, I’ve covered many parts of her football journey, including winning W-League titles and competing at a World Cup.

Rebekah Stott celebrates a scoring a goal with teammate Steph Catley. Westfield W-League | SF: Melbourne City vs Western Sydney Wanderers | Sunday 15 March 2020 | Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line
Stotty celebrates a scoring a goal with teammate Steph Catley. Westfield W-League | SF: Melbourne City vs Western Sydney Wanderers | Sunday 15 March 2020 | Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line

Just before Stotty left for England, I spent the afternoon with her and Lydia Williams at their house in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. We laughed for hours, as they ran amuck in the backyard, trying to complete an obstacle course designed by Stotty. We said goodbye that day without having any idea when we might cross paths again. We assumed it would involve a football pitch, somewhere in the world. 

Ten months later, on an overcast morning in February, I parked my car across the road from the beach in Melbourne. I was pulling bits of video equipment out from the boot of my car when I saw Stotty walking towards me. Whilst ordinarily I would’ve been thrilled to see her, this encounter was bittersweet. Truthfully, what we were about to film was a story I wished I didn’t have to help tell.

In mid 2020, Stotty noticed lumps on her neck. Over time, they grew. Trying to get answers in a new country, during a pandemic, was unimaginably difficult. It took until earlier this year to get an answer. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Stotty flew home from England to undergo treatment. Now she was ready to start telling her story. 

We sat down on a bench above the sand, looking back towards the city. We spoke about the difficult road she’d navigated to get to her diagnosis. She was incredibly open in her account, true to character. I was amazed by how optimistic she seemed, despite the challenges she’d already faced, and the uncertainty with what was to come.

A week later, we met at a cafe for lunch. Stotty spoke about wanting to document her journey. Through a combination of her asking and me offering, we decided to work together. We started to throw ideas around about how to tell her story. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and not just because Stotty was someone I cared so deeply for.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay to do this?” asked Stotty. I imagine it’s rare to find someone that hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way. I was nine years old when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. She passed away when I was sixteen. Going into hospitals has always been difficult for me, as a result. Despite everything already on Stotty’s plate, she was checking in, so concerned was she that this might be too hard for me. 

While it had crossed my mind, it hadn’t deterred me. I was young when my mum was sick, and it was hard to comprehend what was happening. I don’t know that I’ll ever find it easy to talk about mum, but seeing how open Stotty is has helped me realise how much value there is in talking about even the most difficult things. She often speaks about wanting to help those going through similar experiences to her. It reminds me of mum, who became a public advocate for women with advanced breast cancer. Although I wouldn’t have appreciated what that entailed at the time, Stotty’s desire to use her experience positively helps me understand how important it is, and would’ve been with mum. 

Rebekah Stott during her first chemotherapy cycle at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line
Stotty during her first chemotherapy cycle at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line

We started documenting Stotty’s journey during her first week of chemotherapy. We met outside the hospital before her second treatment, and she arrived with a big smile on her face. I knew day one had been long and hard for her, so it surprised me. I mic’d her up, and in we went. 

Inside, we were put in a room by ourselves, so that we could film freely. Stotty was overjoyed when the nurse told her it would be far quicker than yesterday’s visit. As the treatment started, I moved quietly around the room to capture different angles. I asked Stotty what it felt like. “Cold – really cold,” she answered. After a while, I put the camera down. I sat by the window and we chatted about everything from holiday destinations to crosswords to football. Finding the balance between work and friend mode has been easy with Stotty. Friend mode always comes first.

A week later, Stotty’s nearest and dearest gathered as she participated in the World’s Greatest Shave. Daunting was the word she used to describe the thought of losing her hair. As I moved around the room, I focused on capturing not just the shave, but the atmosphere. It was one of love and support – it was so clear just how much Stotty means to so many people.

Rebekah Stott with family and friends after participating in the World’s Greatest Shave. Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line
Stotty with family and friends after participating in the World’s Greatest Shave. Image: Rachel Bach / By The White Line

Although it’s only been a short time since we started documenting her journey, I’ve already learnt so much from Stotty. Her positive attitude has shown me a different way of looking at life’s challenges. The moments where Stotty opens up about her deeper feelings are incredibly powerful, too. She makes herself vulnerable in the most difficult of times, which – to me – shows immense strength. 

We don’t know where this journey will take us, but we’re documenting as much as we can along the way. Telling Stotty’s story in the most authentic way possible is crucial. She wants you to see, hear and read about what she’s going through – both the good and the bad. It’s a chance to try and help others going through a similar experience, but also a chance to raise awareness more broadly. Stotty is so passionate about helping others – her selflessness constantly shines through. 

Documenting this journey – even at such an early stage – has already put a lot into perspective for me. It’s undoubtedly the toughest content I’ve ever captured, but it’s also the most meaningful. Her positive approach to life is compelling. She continues to show how much she cares for those around her, at a time when no one would expect her to focus on anyone but herself. 

As I grow older, dad often tells me that I’m becoming more like my mum. “She’d be so proud,” he says. Sometimes it’s in jest, but it’s mostly sincere. As time passes, the many ways I stay connected to her change. When Stotty and I first discussed working together, I knew I wanted to help straight away. She’s someone I truly care about, and here was an opportunity to try and make a difference. Mum mightn’t have been my motivation, but regardless, I think this would’ve made her proud. 

You can read about Stotty’s journey – in her own words – here:

You can donate to her World’s Greatest Shave fundraiser for the Leukaemia Foundation here.

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