Courtney Cleeland has showed great determination in finishing her studies despite battling leukemia and now wants to be an advocate for health in agriculture.
The 25-year-old was studying a diploma of agriculture online and had just started her dream job at a dairy farm last August when nagging fatigue and a slow-healing rib injury forced her to seek medical treatment.
After a series of tests, doctors discovered she had leukaemia. By 5am the following morning, she was at the hospital, where she stayed for months to receive regular chemotherapy and cell transplants.
Despite her spiralling health, Courtney was determined to finish her diploma, often logging in from her hospital bed.
"I wouldn't have been able to study and work at the same time if it wasn't for TAFE Digital and that ability to study whenever and wherever I want was a godsend when I was in hospital," she said. "I didn't want to defer my studies and the teachers were so accommodating of my lifestyle, it really was amazing."
She later successfully graduated from the course and while she is still battling the disease, she is hoping to be well enough to do some part-time work in the coming months.
Courtney's passion for agriculture was forged early, running around her granddad's property as a child and milking cows at a neighbouring property as a teen. At 17, she completed a certificates in agriculture and worked on dairy farms in Victoria and a cattle station at Jugiong, near Cootamundra.
She remains a strong advocate for encouraging more young women into agriculture and said TAFE Digital was an important part of the training puzzle, allowing students, especially in remote areas, to receive quality training from industry-leading teachers.
"The diploma taught me so much about the business of farming, as well as things like plant production and animal health," Courtney said.
"The course was really affordable and the feedback from teachers was incredible. I also think learning online is an advantage as you don't have to travel to a classroom a classroom."
Once she is back to full health, Courtney wants to kickstart her career, with a focus on cattle genetics.
In the meantime, she has an important message for those on the land.
"Farmers are typically tough and stoic but I just want to raise awareness about leukaemia and urge farmers that if something doesn't feel right, get it checked out," Courtney said.
TAFE Digital agriculture teacher Melinda Whale said it was gratifying to see passionate students like Courtney thrive by studying at their own pace regardless of where they live or the challenges they faced.