Stepping into leadership

By Sean Dondas, former Canteen Board director 

My journey at Canteen started when my mum relapsed with cervical cancer in 2007. The first program I attended was the first time in my life I truly felt like I belonged.

When mum passed away in September 2009, after years of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and eventually hospice care, Canteen and the friends I made became my family. Soon after, when I was just 16 years old, I became a ward of the state and was placed into foster care. During that time, Canteen provided the stability that helped me finish school and get through the tough times I faced.

Canteen not only provided me with life-changing support but let me glimpse the person I could be. I became involved in Canteen’s leadership program, and from there I felt like I was kicking goals. I was able to see my value and it motivated me to move forward with my life, despite all the tough times.

I’ve heard people say that Canteen is incredibly innovative by having five of its nine Board positions filled by young people. I agree. But I also think it’s logical and quite right that young people have a seat at the table and drive outcomes for other young people who have been impacted by cancer. Listening to these voices and amplifying them can cut through all the other noise when you’re trying to advocate for things like better cancer care outcomes.

Canteen’s leadership program isn’t an ‘added extra’—it’s a critical investment in building the pathway to resilience and coping skills that will last us for the rest of our lives. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead for me and I know that whatever challenges are thrown up, I’ll be able to adapt and evolve to overcome obstacle after obstacle. Because that’s what Canteen taught me.