Cancer makes strange bedfellows, but three bouts between two soldiers formed the basis of a podcast sharing inspirational stories of young people taking their problems by the horns.
The 25StayAlive podcast, hosted by testicular and bowel cancer survivor Captain Hugo Toovey and Private Matt “Willy” Williams, who lives with incurable brain cancer, presents an “inspiring, real and raw” view of both their own and other’s experiences.
“The podcast is really just about giving other inspirational young men and women a platform to tell their story and hopefully make a difference in the lives of others,” Captain Toovey said.
“When I went through testicular cancer, I was only 21 and initially I wasn’t open in sharing what I was going through.
“But I soon realised that by sharing my story I could not only raise awareness, but also encourage other young men and women to do the same.
“Whether it’s mental health, cancer, or any other adversity, I think it’s so powerful to be able to hear someone else’s story and realise that you’re not alone.
“There are so many incredible people out there with their own inspiring story.
“Willy and I both talk about the demons we’ve faced, but sharing our stories, and interviewing other inspiring men and women has been really good for our own mental healing.”
“Whether it’s mental health, cancer, or any other adversity, I think it’s so powerful to be able to hear someone else’s story and realise that you’re not alone.”
After being diagnosed with incurable brain cancer two years ago, Private Williams said the more open he was about his treatments, the easier they were to deal with.
“Increasing people’s knowledge and awareness of cancers – and other people in the community who have overcome massive hurdles and learned to accept their conditions – is something I feel really strongly about,” he said.
“As a 23-year-old, I’m right in the middle of the worst suicide rate in Australia and I see that as a statistic that just isn’t good enough.
“The podcast is an opportunity to increase people’s knowledge of what’s going on and see other people that are fighting through things they might be going through, potentially showing them how they can get through it as well.”
In the six weeks since they started the podcast, Captain Toovey and Private Williams have also shared the stories of 27-year-old Dahlia, who is fighting advanced bowel cancer and 24-year-old Ben, who, following an accident, was a rendered a tetraplegic.
“Considering how long we’ve been going for – and that neither of us had any podcast experience – we’ve been pretty overwhelmed with all the feedback we’ve received,” Captain Toovey said.
“We get people sending us messages saying they had just listened to an episode and it changed their perspective on life, or others who open up with their own story.
“The most amazing one I received was from a young man who said the podcast prompted him to go see his doctor, where he was diagnosed with early stage testicular cancer.
“It’s pretty special when we get messages like that, because it really does make it all worthwhile.
“Something like testicular cancer is curable if caught early, which makes early detection so important.
“That’s why we’re so passionate to spread these amazing stories and messages to as many people as possible – it actually is making a difference.”
“To a degree it upsets me that a lot of people go through these things, but I’m also honoured they hold me to such a high regard – I don’t see myself like that at all.”
Their feedback is often accompanied by personal messages and stories – not just from those who are undergoing their own adversities.
“I got a message from a kid recently, who said his mum is going through brain cancer at the moment and listening to me really helped him understand what she’s going through,” Private Williams said.
“To a degree it upsets me that a lot of people go through these things, but I’m also honoured they hold me to such a high regard – I don’t see myself like that at all.
“To be able to touch people like that is something I didn’t really think I’d ever be able to do.
“It makes it all worth it and pushes me to be more open and find out more about this particular disease for them.”
The pair plan on having more inspirational podcast guests in the future, including Sapper Curtis McGrath and Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC.