Born 26th September 1977 into a family with two brothers, Fiona attended Delacombe and Alfredton Primary Schools and enrolled at Ballarat High School in 1990. In May 1990 at the age of 13 she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma a common form of bone cancer in adolescents. Given only a 10 per cent chance of survival, she was immediately transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where she was treated by Ballarat Paediatric Oncologist and Haematologist Dr George Kannourakis.
Ewings Sarcoma at that time had a survival rate of only 5%.
Fiona fought the disease for 16 months and was one of the first patients in Australia to test a new drug which eased the side-effects of chemotherapy. With courage and determination, she immersed herself in fundraising for cancer research. One of the dreams of the Elsey family was that a cancer research centre would be established in Ballarat. Having to travel to Melbourne for treatment had only added to their burden. Despite treatment Fiona’s disease had unfortunately progressed. Fiona during this time asked George why cancer was only being researched at capital cities. Fiona then dreamt of a Regional Research Centre so that other people would not have to suffer like she had. Although Dr George Kannourakis remained hopeful while trying to outwit the disease unfortunately Fiona’s condition would deteriorate and Dr Kannourakis provided care for Fiona during her final stages of illness.
Fiona lost her fight for life on the 6th October 1991, aged 14, but she inspired all those around her, including her local community. The community had raised the initial funds to support the establishment of what was known as the Ballarat Cancer Research Centre. Fiona’s life was short, but it had an impact on the lives of countless others. Six hundred people attended her funeral. Ballarat High School students lined Pleasant Street to pay their last respects and tributes arrived from two of Fiona’s favourite entertainers – Ozzy Osborne and the band, Skid Row.
In 1998, The Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Laboratory was opened at St John of God Hospital in Ballarat. In 2007, “Fiona’s Walk” was staged as part of Springfest – a community event in which students from schools across the city walked together around Lake Wendouree to raise funds for cancer research.
Fiona was laid to rest in the Ballarat New Cemetery Lawn H Row 15 Grave 41.