Confined to a wheelchair and with a brain tumour he had been told was inoperable, Ashley Masocha refused to lose hope.
The Kingsville student, originally hailing from Zimbabwe, had arrived in Melbourne in 2013 in fine health and ready to enjoy the bright new chapter in his life.
After a happy start at Victoria University, his health problems began in 2014 when he was 20.
“It didn’t happen all at once,” he said. “It took a long time to realise what was going on.”
An avid tennis player, Ashley first began to feel pain in his knees while on court. Then came headaches, fatigue and weight loss.
A series of tests offered no clues – until he was sent for a brain scan.
“The doctor said, ‘We’ve found something in your brain,” he said. “I was pretty scared – I cried, then I called my brother to tell him.”
His brother took him to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where he was admitted for further scans.
“They came back and told me I had a pilocytic astrocytoma – a tumour located at the top of my spine, right under my brain stem,” he said.
The tumour was deemed inoperable. After eight hours of brain surgery to take a biopsy, he had his first course of chemotherapy, which failed to help.
Ashley was collecting brain fluid at the back of his head, forcing a second round of brain surgery. Another course of chemo also failed, at which point his parents made a mercy dash from Zimbabwe.
His condition deteriorated and a cyst was discovered, triggering a third round of brain surgery. By the start of 2016, despite a third course of chemo, Ashley’s health was going dramatically downhill.
“My oncologist said the medical team had run out of options and couldn’t help me anymore,” he said “I thought maybe this is fate, this is just what will happen to me.”
His father refused to concede the fight and made contact with a St Vincent’s Hospital surgeon, who said he thought he could help.
“Initially, we were a bit sceptical, but I went to see him and he said, ‘I think I can remove your tumour’,” Ashley said.
“I thought this is my make or break situation, so on April 17, 2016, that’s when I had my fourth brain surgery which lasted at least nine hours. To my surprise and everyone’s surprise, my tumour was removed. That was the best feeling in the world.”
Throughout much of the ordeal, Ashley continued to study, which he credits with helping him through.
“I wanted to keep my mind focused on other things and to give me a purpose,” he said.
After studying online, he began to feel better and wanted to return to classes. He wasn’t strong enough, so his mother Patricia would push him to classes in a wheelchair.
Ashley is out of his wheelchair, a healthy weight and on track to finish his bachelor of information technology degree.
He has been offered a graduate internship with Telstra and is hoping to be back on the tennis court soon.