"You have a large aggressive brain tumour" were the words Sophie Stapleford heard seven years ago from world renowned neurosurgeon Charlie Teo.
"These words completely changed my life. Everything suddenly came to a halt, literally I had to stop everything," Stapleford said.
Once told she wouldn't play again, Stapleford, from NSW's Hunter region, will proudly lead the Northern NSW National Premier League Women's third-placed Maitland Magpies out against Broadmeadow Magic in a top-three battle on the weekend.
In the process they'll raise hope and awareness about the growing incidence of brain cancer in the community, wearing a special Brain Cancer Awareness jersey for the match.
"At 21 my life was put on pause. There were so many things that could go wrong, that could change the future of my life or if there was even a future after this," she said.
"I had no choice but to just go along with it and trust the process. Nine months later I could finally walk outside without the pain being to overpowering."
Anyone watching Stapleford lead from the front on the football pitch with silky skills, speed, courage and fierce competitiveness is given no inkling of her ongoing journey of recovery and the problems it poses.
"During these last years it hasn't been easy with ongoing medical treatment, surgeries, illness' recurrent injuries," Stapleford said.
"One of the most difficult things is that a lot of the ongoing worries are invisible which can be challenging, like trigeminal neuralgia (the condition affects her left side and it can differ from sharp, burning, aching pain to severe migraines ) and chronic fatigue.
"My Pop has battled cancer for almost as long as I can remember, he told me 'if you stay positive you can get through even the worst days'.
"I strive to promote that because unless you've been there you really don't know."
Stapleford said she feels blessed every time she plays.
"Those who know me know how much I love soccer and when I was told I would never play again it was devastating," she said.
"I am so thankful for every day that I can run on to the field, I'm blessed to be out here because there were days I couldn't be.
"I have had so much support over the years from family, friends and my teammates, which has been really humbling. I'm just thankful to be here and to hopefully instill some positivity.
"If you're going through something similar please just keep climbing."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Stapleford said the incidence of the rate of brain cancer was among the fastest growing in Australia.
"Roughly one person every five hours in Australia is diagnosed with brain cancer, yet we don't talk about it or have nearly enough education on it," she said.
"I am so proud that we can raise awareness for brain cancer. Maitland Football has been so onboard and supportive of this idea, it is such a honour."
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