By Amy Saad
“Never be afraid to be the person leading the charge. If you see something wrong or something that needs attention, don’t wait for someone else to act.”
Charlotte Forwood is an amazing and influential young woman who is a strong advocate for kids with cancer. When she was 9 years old, her brother was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. She took this as an opportunity to not only help her brother but also other children facing cancer and became an ambassador for the kid’s cancer project and an advocate for childhood cancer awareness. Throughout this time, she delivered many speeches and fundraised for cancer research. She most notably raised around $130,000 for the World’s Greatest Shave, which made an immense impact and significantly aided cancer research. Her resilience, optimism and advocacy have made an astonishing contribution to those suffering with similar conditions to her brother. I asked Charlotte some questions in an interview and here are her answers:
What does an empowered woman look like to you?
To me, an empowered woman is a woman who doesn’t let her gender define who she is or what she does. As girls, we should all be proud of our identity, but not think of it as the first thing about ourselves. We each have our own strengths, things that make us who we are, and those should be the things that define us. Loreto truly does empower us, and it isn’t until you talk to people from outside our Loreto bubble that you see how much so.
We’re taught what’s right and we’re taught that we are equal, but not everyone has accepted that yet and it would be naive of me to claim so. Despite this, it is the attitude that is present in the Loreto girl that I truly believe is a characteristic of an empowered woman. We believe we should be equal; we demand it and most of the time people have no choice but to listen to us. Look at women such as Taylor Swift, Serena Williams, Emma Watson, these women are known for their musical talent, athleticism, and acting talent/ activism respectively. All three of them demand respect and have fought more than any man to get where they are today, and while they are proud they are women and they have made leaps and bounds in their respective careers to increase equality, they know that they are worth so much more than that. These three are what I think an empowered woman would look like.
What advice do you have for girls looking to make a similar impact or for those with passions in similar backgrounds to yours?
I have 2 main pieces of advice for girls who either wish to make an impact raising funds for a cause they’re passionate about or just to consider when they’re going about their days.
Never be afraid to be the person leading the charge. Something I have discovered is that people have a desire to do good; they just don’t always know how. When Nicholas was sick the way the community rallied around my family to support them was incredible. It seemed that everyone wanted to do something to help in their own way.
I can confidently say almost everyone my family knew offered us something, it would usually be a cooked meal or a mowed lawn, but you could tell that they wanted to do something. It is these people that made our hair shave fundraiser so massive, they donated, and they shared our page to quite literally everyone they knew. Our initial goal was $1,000, we reached that in the first 24 hours. At the end of it places like OPTUS and McDonalds and the Baghdad embassy had donated. My brother and I saw that people wanted to help so we gave them something in the best way that we knew how. The moral is, if you see something wrong or something that needs attention don’t wait for someone else to act. I know that it is incredibly hard to stick your neck out but don’t underestimate the impacts that your actions have.
It doesn’t have to be massive but be the change, people will follow you because I truly do think that deep down everyone wants to do good.
Don’t let other people define the way that you think about yourself. It may be hypocritical of me to say this considering I spent years letting what people thought of me shape my self-worth but in retrospect, it was those experiences that taught me this. Despite the hurt and the desire to change myself that accompanied that pain, words themselves never changed me. The power to change always lay within myself. This is something that is a lot easier said than done, and I know that I still have moments where I forget this but it’s important to remember that if you’re who you want to be, and that person doesn’t hurt anyone else, then you don’t have to be anyone else.
If you truly believe in something, if there is a cause you are passionate about, say something. People’s judgment is an understandable fear but in being quiet you’re not being true to yourself and you have to live with yourself a lot longer then you have to live with anyone else.
What are the challenges you have faced or continue to face in your current field and how have you either overcome them or are working to overcome them?
Firstly, I have to acknowledge that in terms of what I advocate for it has not been as difficult as most. Childhood cancer is something everyone can agree is horrific, one of the challenges however is in getting people to listen and then understand the realities of it. I’ve come to learn that while both adults and children get cancer it is surprisingly the children that get forgotten about more often than not. I believe it is because it’s easier to accept an adult getting cancer as they’ve lived some kind of life, whereas when it’s a child, people tend to shy away from it because it is too confronting for us to accept. It is the frustration that came from this difficulty that plagued me the most. How could so many people seemingly not care about something that for years was all I could think about? Even now there are so many misconceptions about cancer treatment and kids with cancer that it baffles me.
While cancer is this one big term there is not a single cancer case that is the same. That is why it is so hard to find treatments, every person's body reacts differently, and that difference is only increased between adults and kids. So, when the Australian government dedicated $252 million dollars into cancer research and only 2.3% goes to childhood cancer it’s incredibly frustrating that the government doesn’t even understand the injustice. 97.7% of the research funded will most likely not help kids and that is something people don’t want to hear. This leads to another massive challenge and that is the feeling of powerlessness that accompanied me throughout the 8 years that I have been speaking on this issue.
Since 2013 there has been no major breakthrough, kids are still dying, and it makes everything I’ve done seen so futile.
To put it simply, it’s hard to keep fighting something that seems like a losing battle. That is until I remember that that is exactly what cancer is sometimes. Nicholas was told that he was fighting a losing battle but not once did that make him give in, so why should I? The thought of Nicholas is what kept me going every time I doubted whether or not I was doing something worthwhile. All you have to do to keep fighting for something you’re passionate about is to just remember the reason that you are.
The next major challenge I faced is in my opinion incredibly self-centred, but I feel I would be lying if I didn’t mention it. I shaved my hair at 10 years old, and that means that it didn’t fully grow back until I was 13-14. I came to Loreto when I was 12, right in the middle of that awkward short hair stage, a stage some have even coined as the “fro”. Now right before I started high school my little brother relapsed and that meant that I had a choice to make, I could be as vocal as I was about childhood cancer in primary school here, or I could be quiet and try and fit in.
I experienced a lot of judgement because of my short hair, when I was bald it was okay because I could tell people knew it was something to do with cancer but in the awkward short hair stage they didn’t understand. The amount of times I was called a boy was more than enough to crush anyone’s self-confidence. It was because of that and a desire to not be known by everyone as the kid who has a brother with cancer that I chose to be quiet.
From that day I kindly separated my advocate and my school personalities. It’s ironic that I can speak on TV and in parliament easily, yet it is speaking in front of my own peers that scares me the most.
Answering these questions with the potential of the whole school reading them is the first step I’ve really taken to overcome this challenge. I honestly believe that there are friends of mine who don’t know as many details about this part of my life as I have just laid out for you now. It is quite frankly something I am embarrassed of, because while I never shied away from questions, I wasn’t the one starting the conversation as I should have been.
I have learnt I didn’t need to separate my brother's cancer from who I was because if he was never diagnosed, I would be a completely different person. I never wanted cancer to define me, and it isn’t going to because of something a friend said to me and that is “when we look at you we don’t see any of that, yeah it’s in the back of our heads but it doesn’t change who we think you are'', and after 5 years I know that while this is a big part of me, it isn’t who I am.
Those are the main challenges that came with being an advocate, but I also experienced many challenges on a more personal level. These come with the circumstances of my passion for this cause and that is my little brother's cancer. Obviously, this affected me more than anything else has. Not only was it destroying Nicholas’s body, but it also tore apart my family. When one parent is always in the hospital and the other is always working it leads to a 9 and 11-year-old almost raising themselves.
It’s the one thing people don’t always initially realise and that is the effect childhood cancer has on the whole family, something I saw time and time again in the hospital. In all honesty, I saw a lot of things that made me realise the brutality of this disease, so many moments I’ll never forget. It is now that these memories fuel me but before they destroy me.
I felt so guilty that I was healthy because I didn’t deserve to be when I knew of people so much better than myself who were sick. It took a long time for me to realise that being alive was my chance to change things, I had to live my life to honour the people lost, not to grieve them.
Overcoming this is quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but I did it by remembering their strength and taking it with me every time I went to speak, because my voice is also theirs.
Who were some role models for you growing up that inspired you to do what you do?
My biggest role model in everything that I do has to be my little brother. I know it sounds strange to look up to someone 8 years younger than you but to me I don’t know anybody who is stronger. He was 2 years old when he received his diagnosis, stage 4 high risk neuroblastoma, and he genuinely is a miracle because statistics say that he shouldn’t be here today.
The fundraising I did, the speeches, shaving my hair, none of it ever came as a question to me, it was always just something I knew I had to do. Every time I saw him in a hospital bed, fighting for his life I knew that I had to do something to fight too. Realistically I know that nothing I ever did affected him directly, the funds and the awareness raised would never make him better because we are years off any treatment that would’ve cured him.
Despite that, he is my biggest inspiration because everything I do is to honour him and his fight.
Nobody should ever have to experience that trauma or the repercussions of the treatment that he still has to face today. I know this is slightly off-topic, but I feel this is something a lot of people don’t know but should. Cancer treatment is sometimes as damaging, if not more than cancer itself, especially in kids. They believe that due to the age of these kids that they can be more brutal since their bodies are younger, and while scientifically this is true it leaves those that survive with sometimes crippling side-effects.
I know Nicholas for one has a bone age 2 years younger than his actual age, only half of his 2 adrenal glands, a weak immune system and is left with a high-risk for relapse, heart failure, kidney failure and on top of all of that he still has cancer spots spread throughout his body despite his stable status.
He is the reason that I dedicate a part of myself to finding better treatment, and I know that he is the inspiration behind my goals to be either an oncologist or a cancer researcher, because after seeing everything that I have I cannot imagine myself doing anything but trying to change this horrible reality.
Alongside Nicholas, there is only one other person that inspires me every day to keep fighting for this and that is Col Reynolds. He is the founder of the Kids Cancer Project, the charity that I worked alongside throughout all of my fundraising and is quite possibly one of the most incredible people that I have ever met. His story is phenomenal, and I encourage anyone reading this to spend time learning it. [https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CixCsuBRKsE] The first time I met him was at my head shave, it was when we were only about $10,000 into our fundraiser that he called my mum and said that he wanted to shave his head with us, and he did. He was there right beside me as I got my hair shaved, and he even let me, and my older brother shave his.
It was this sign of true passion for this cause that makes me look back and realise that this man would do anything to help these kids. It is impossible not to admire him. Every time things get tough and I want to quit he is a reminder of how important every person’s actions are. He started off as a bus driver dedicated to making sick kids smile and now his charity has raised over $40 million for childhood cancer research. I don’t even know how to describe how good of a man he is, throughout everything I began to see him as a grandfather-like figure because I truly idolise him. He always jokes that he’s not dying until childhood cancer is history and it is that determination that has made him the person that I respect most.
Charlotte is an incredible young woman who has done so much for Kid’s cancer research. Her admirable strength and determination have been amazing and has made a huge difference through her advocacy. Her story of perseverance, pain and power is truly inspiring, and I believe it is a story everyone should know and admire.