KATELYN Benham was fighting forest fires in Tasmania three years ago as a member of Kangarilla Country Fire Service when she felt a lump on the side of her head.
“Every time I turned my neck, this lump popped out,” the 22-year-old says. “It turned out I was lucky it showed up because when they scanned they found 14 lumps on my neck and down my chest.”
Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she faced nine painful months of chemotherapy — but the day she got the all-clear she was back at Kangarilla CFS station as a senior firefighter.
It’s all she’s ever wanted, having spent half her life, beginning as a cadet aged 11, as a CFS volunteer.
“My grandpa was group officer for the Happy Valley Group and it’s been a big part of my family,” she says.
Nominating her CFS colleague for a Pride of Australia award, Amelia Rohrlach said Katelyn was “selfless” and “an unbelievable human being”.
“Katelyn hasn’t had life easy but she works hard every day,” she says. “She’s the first female senior firefighter in the history of the brigade and is also the brigade training officer and group training officer, a role that individually requires countless hours of work.
“Then she fundraises, helps run a community newsletter and supports the CFS cadets each Friday night, which is probably her only time off.”
Katelyn also has a full-time job as an employment consultant for people with disabilities, and attended the devastating Eden Valley fires in 2014 and the destructive Sampson Flat fires a year later.
“I learned a lot on that fire and especially about the resilience of the community,” she says.
News Corp has partnered with Australia Post and Seven News to stage the 2018 Pride of Australia Awards. This is the final week for nominations.
Crowning of the national Editors’ Choice Award winners will be live on Sunrise on December 14.