Rachel Fieldhouse


Aussie with terminal cancer uses time left to make her mark

Aussie with terminal cancer uses time left to make her mark

An Australian researcher who has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer is busy making plans for when she’s gone - including a contribution she hopes will help advance research in animal studies.

Siobhan O’Sullivan was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in July 2020, finding out within a year that the cancer had spread and that her illness was terminal.

“In the week prior to my diagnosis, I was starting to say to people, ‘I’m not feeling right - I think it’s stress because Dad’s going to die soon’,” she told 7News.

“The week before dad died, I went to the doctor and said, ‘Something’s not right’.”

During her treatments Siobhan suffered multiple strokes - an unexpected side effect - but even extensive treatment couldn’t stop the cancer from spreading.

“That was a huge blow for me because a lot of women at that point do get some remission time,” she said.

“I’m now at 19 months, which means I’m on borrowed time.”

Though she’s living with death, Siobhan has maintained her humour and optimism, as well as her advocacy for ovarian cancer and the legalisation of voluntary assisted dying.

She also began making plans, divesting her property and funds to her niece, nephew, godson and his sister, and ensuring her podcast is in good hands once she’s gone.

Siobhan has also bequeathed $50,000 to the Australisian Animal Studies Association (AASA), which she is a founder of, and is helpling to establish two awards for future researchers.

She is an associate professor of politics at Sydney’s University of New South Wales and was extremely involved in research around animal studies and her other passion, the alleviation of social issues related to poverty.

Thanks to her donation, the AASA is offering two new prizes: one for early-career researchers, and the other for animal studies scholars, artists or advocates who have worked to promote their insights and findings with their peers and the public.

“This is an exciting way to help the field of animal studies,” she said in a statement. “My own research … suggests that many animal studies scholars feel isolated and their research is not acknowledged by their own institutions. 

“These awards are a way of strengthening the animal studies community and giving scholars a sense of achievement and recognition.”

As she nears the end of her life, Siobhan has said she would feel immensely comforted by the thought that she could legally end her life before her cancer brings her even more suffering.

“My view is that there is no benefit that’s going to come to me, or my family, or this world, for me to suffer the last couple of weeks of a death by ovarian cancer,” she said.

But the very recent passing of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill in NSW Parliament might still come too late for Siobhan, since it could take up to 18 months for the law to come into effect.

Despite it not necessarily being an option she could take up, Siobhan says her advocacy will help others in the future.

“This is for the other people, for the next people - the people in one, two, three years time,” she said.

Image: Siobhan O’Sullivan (Facebook)

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