'I felt empty inside': Ariana's scary fight to beat brain cancer at 17

Kristine Tarbert
Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
Ariana was diagnosed with brain cancer at 17. Photos: Supplied/Ari Delawari

At 17 years old, Ariana Delawari had her whole life ahead of her - she was an avid runner, about to complete her HSC and finish school, and looking forward to travelling.

But halfway through her exams in 2015, Ariana started to feel anything but herself.

“I started to forget things and I couldn’t think properly,” Ariana tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“I stopped going out with my friends. I felt empty inside. It was frightening for me and my parents because we didn’t know what was going on with me.”

She was an avid runner and it has taken her years to get find that ability again. Photo: Supplied/Ari Delawari

At that stage, the now 21-year-old from Neutral Bay, in Sydney, had no idea just how serious her situation was about to become.

After visiting her GP with her parents and being referred for an MRI brain scan, the family got the worst news imaginable.

Ariana was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and needed to be operated on immediately. While it was an incredible difficult thing to take, the only part the young woman remembers from that day however was her first thought: “Holy crap I hope this gets out of me”.

She had brain surgery to remove the tumour within three days and then spent the next five months in Royal North Shore hospital having both “horrible” chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Ari spent five months in hospital undergoing chemo and radiotherapy. Photo: Supplied/Ari Delawari

She was given the all clear about six months later, but as it turned, it was just the start of her journey.

As she recovered from treatment it became clear the tumour had also caused a brain injury and the teenager was suffering from significant short-term memory loss, as well as other basic everyday functions.

“It was tough,” she admits.

“I had to learn to be myself again, including doing basic everyday things like communicating with people, showering independently and cooking.

“I also had difficulty remembering people because my short term memory was bad and I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few minutes. This meant I had to have someone with me all the time. I could walk but my muscle strength and speech were affected. I was tired every day.”

She also started as an outpatient at Royal Ryde Rehab at the beginning of 2016. Photo: Supplied/Ari Delawari

To help get back on her feet, Ariana started as an outpatient at Royal Rehab in Ryde at the beginning of 2016.

“Looking at photos of what I did everyday helped my memory a lot,” she says, explaining she also did occupational therapy and speech therapy.

These days, thanks to her incredible support team, she is doing much better and was just recently inducted into the 2019 Royal Rehab Wall of Fame for her inspiring journey, hard work and dedication.

She has since been able to go back to travelling. Photo: Supplied/Ari Delawari

“With all this support, life is so much better now—I have been able to go out and do fun things such as going to a Eminem concert, clubbing, dancing, and having acai bowls at cafes,” she muses.

She has also been able to get back to doing things she loves including running and travelling.

“It’s an amazing feeling being more independent! I went overseas to New Zealand with my parents after Christmas, and we’ve recently come back from three weeks in France,” she says.

But her dream is to go to Hawaii and get back to a 10/10 for her exercise, communication, and memory.

“But I’m feeling healthy and happy. In the future I hope to become an exercise physiologist. I also plan to keep up my running as it makes me feel good,” Ariana says.

“My message to everyone is push on, keep going, you can get through it! Smile every day and you’ll be OK!”

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