'Cancer can't hold me back anymore': Teen survivor speaks about anti-bullying

Ryane Nethery underwent surgery at age three to remove a watermelon-sized tumour, but in the aftermath of the disease, she suffered hair loss, a heart condition and a learning disability that led to her being bullied. Now a teen, she's speaking out for others who have experienced bullying due to their illness.

Ryane Nethery, 15, spoke to peers about her diagnosis and continuing journey

Ryane Nethery, 15, brought an anti-bullying message to her fellow students at Foothills Academy on Thursday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

When Ryane Nethery was three years old, she was diagnosed with Wilms' tumour, a rare form of kidney cancer that mostly affects children. 

The Calgarian was forced to undergo surgery to remove the tumour, which had grown to the size of a watermelon, and then endured nine months of radiation and 10 months of chemotherapy.

Though Nethery was eventually able to attend kindergarten, she soon found herself experiencing problems of a different kind.

"I had to cut all my hair off due to chemotherapy [and] I had big splotches missing," she said, adding that other students would ask her what had happened to her hair.

Now 15, Nethery is a cancer survivor. But in the aftermath of the disease, she now has a serious heart condition and a learning disability.

She said those circumstances have led to instances of bullying from her peers.

"In Grade 3, a kid came up to me and said I was the dumbest kid in school," she said. "I did have trouble learning, and I knew that from the start.

"A couple years ago, I was asked by kids in my grade if I was contagious. So that was a little bit heartbreaking for my parents and I."

Advocating for others

Despite her challenges in school, Nethery made it her mission to advocate for herself and others who have experienced bullying due to their illness.

According to information from Kids Cancer Care, children with cancer are three times more likely to be bullied than others.

"When [other kids] are bullying someone and saying things like that, it just hurts, because you did nothing wrong. You're blaming cancer for whatever they did," Nethery said. "But you have to go through that. I'm doing this because I don't want kids like me to be bullied."

As part of her effort to raise awareness, Nethery spoke at Foothills Academy, where she is a student, about her history with the disease and how it has impacted her life.

Ryane Nethery, left, seen here with Winter Ghostkeeper of Kids Cancer Care, spoke to students at Foothills Academy on Thursday as part of a program called Cancer in the Classroom. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Winter Ghostkeeper, a child life specialist with Kids Cancer Care, said Nethery's story could help begin a conversation around what can often be a scary subject for kids.

"[We're] educating as many kids as possible what cancer is so that it isn't so scary and so they can support their classmates while they're going through it, and after," Ghostkeeper said.

With files from Mike Symington


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