4 Min Read

Half a million-dollar legacy – and a shaved head to boot

The torment of watching her grandfather battle cancer. Twice. The anguish of possibly losing her uncle to cancer. The devastation of losing someone close to her at high school to cancer. These are more than enough to knock the stuffing out of anyone.

But Madison is not just anyone. She turned them into pillars of strength, courage, and intestinal fortitude to help save lives from this disease.

So begins the story of Madison Holling, a law student at University of Western Australia who has spent the last six years raising funds through the UWA Relay for Life. Putting in all the sweat and energy she can muster to aid Cancer Council WA’s fight against cancer.

All the while helping to raise half a million dollars.

Madison Holling and friends.

Madison first began her quest upon the death of her classmate at the end of her high school education and beginning of university studies. “I first started taking part in it [the relay] at UWA in 2017 shortly after one of my friends from high school passed away,” she says.

The tragedy was made even more horrific by its timing – the young man’s life ended on his 18th birthday. She says she wanted to honour his memory and support his family and involving herself with the relay was the way to do so.

She also believes it’s “the best demonstration of the culture of UWA,” where the myriad of clubs within the university get involved and everyone goes all out. And all out they certainly have gone. Overall, UWA Relay for Life has raised approximately one million dollars in the ten years it’s been run.

Madison’s return to the relay year after year was also instigated by the disease’s attack on her very own family, giving her even more reason to help ease the suffering and bring about a cure.

“My grandfather had two different types of cancer when I was younger,” she says. Then in 2020, her uncle was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma – an aggressive cancer with a median overall survival rate of 5-7 years.

“We could lose him at any time,” she says. Hence her decision to go even further and shave her head during that year’s relay. Madison says she regrets not doing it for her high-school friend and did not want to let the opportunity of doing it for her uncle pass her by.

Madison Holling and friend.

The head shave was live streamed on Facebook which garnered extra support and her interaction with people wherever she went with that bald head afterwards were wonderful opportunities for Madison to make people more aware of the dangers of cancer.

Made even more so by the timing. The shave happened during the height of the COVID pandemic and she “wanted to remind people that yes COVID is awful, but we can also consider people who are battling cancer.”

It is estimated by this year’s end over 160,000 people in Australia will be diagnosed with cancer. Almost 50,000 will lose their lives from it.

The chances of staying alive are getting better however. In the 1980’s the survival rate was less than 50%; now 70% of Australians will live for at least five years after diagnosis and in some cancers the survival rate is as high as 90%. 

But we still have so much more to do to get that rate up to 100%!

Cancer has left a legacy in Madison Holling’s life. Madison Holling has left a legacy in the lives of a multitude of cancer patients – many of whom she has not and will not meet – by her efforts in six years of UWA Relay for Life. 

As she enters her final semester of her master’s degree, here’s hoping others will follow Madison’s suit and use whatever strength, courage and intestinal fortitude they have to go that little bit further to beat cancer.

Because even if just one life is saved, it’s well worth going that little bit further.

To learn more about the UWA Relay for Life and the Cancer Council click here.