Nelson teenager Brodie Seelen is no stranger to a challenge. At 16-years-old he made history as the youngest athlete to compete in the Coast-to-Coast endurance race, only to have his life turned upside down two weeks later, when he was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had back pain, which was getting worse by the day. Doctors arranged an MRI and then I was rushed through to see a specialist who told me I had cancer of the spine and pelvis.” “At the time I didn’t really process it all. My first question was, ‘but can I still train?’ It took a while for the reality to sink in,” says Brodie.
Months of exhaustive tests followed, only for doctors to discover it wasn’t cancer after all, but an incredibly rare auto-immune blood disease, Aplastic Anaemia.
“They told us that Brodie was dying and he would need a bone marrow transplant which is pretty confronting stuff for a 17-year-old,” says Mum, Mary.
Moving to Christchurch for treatment was made easier with the help of Rānui House, says Brodie.
“It made it possible for us to stay together as a family, it meant Mum and Dad could be there at my bedside through all the tough days, and there were a few of those!”
For the transplant to successfully go ahead, a donor was needed, and Brodie was fortunate to find a match in his younger brother, Liam. High doses of chemotherapy were needed to prepare his body for the procedure.
“The chemotherapy really knocked him, killing all his remaining white blood cells. He ended up having a couple of adverse reactions to the drugs, so I was grateful for Rānui House, which allowed me to stay close to Brodie throughout it all.”
Brodie and his family stayed for close to four months at Rānui House while doctors kept a close eye on him following the transplant, and eventually he was well enough to return home. Getting back into exercise was top priority for Brodie, who had his sights set on running a half-ironman scheduled to take place a year to the day of his transplant. Determined to give back to those who helped him on his journey, he set up a give a little page to help raise funds for both Rānui House and the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Service.
“Seeing and experiencing firsthand on a daily basis the amazing work both organisations do for so many different Kiwis and their families, I just knew I had to give back,” says Brodie.
Unfortunately, due to Covid the race was cancelled, but Brodie went ahead and planned his own solo race: a 1.9 kilometre swim, 90km bike ride and 20km run, starting and finishing on Nelson’s Lake Rotoiti shore. Brodie managed to raise over $11,000 for his efforts. Brodie’s road to recovery isn’t over – he has been in and out of hospital several times over the past year with recurrent pericarditis, resulting once in surgery to drain the fluid that built-up around his heart.
“The good news is that Brodie has just received approval from Pharmac for us to begin a trial of the drug anakinra, which is showing promising results for this type of condition overseas,” says Mary.
Despite the challenges that have been thrown his way Brodie says he is “weirdly grateful for the experience”.
“It’s given me an entirely new perspective on life. I know that in an instant, everything can change, so I focus on making the most of each day, and making every second count.”
Brodie’s goals for the future include travelling the world, training to become a certified Outdoor Education Instructor, and one day doing a full ironman.
Brodie and his family spent 115 nights at Rānui House while he was receiving treatment for Aplastic Anaemia.