It’s only thanks to science that I’m alive

Joel Steele feels like he’s living on borrowed time. A cancer diagnosis as a teenager may have crushed his dreams of becoming a pilot, but it led him to other frontiers.

Joel says he was “an average student” but during his 9 months of intense chemotherapy it was his studies that kept him going. Ignoring his doctors’ advice, Joel attended school throughout his treatment, believing that even a few hours of education each day was better than nothing.

During his time at Westmead Children’s Hospital, Joel became a role model for the younger children who were also battling cancer. He let doctors perform his medical procedures in front of the younger patients, to encourage them to be brave and positive. “I’d go through hell to help those little kids” he said.

It was during this time Joel discovered more about his Aboriginal heritage and said learning about his identity as a Palawa man “filled a space that was missing in my life.”

Joel confesses he never really thought about university or understood that you could “do science there.” But a study tour organised by the Aurora Education Foundation – who work to help Indigenous students reach their potential - exposed him to the world’s best universities. He loved Cambridge University in particular and hopes to study there in the future.

Joel is now a neuroscientist, studying for a PhD at University of Technology Sydney. His research into amino acids and proteins help us to better understand brain disease like Alzheimer’s and Motor Neurone Disease and will inform their prevention and treatment in the future.

Joel knows what it’s like to be very sick and wants to prevent others having to endure a life-threatening illness. “Science can make the world a better place” he claims, “and I want to leave some betterment in the world before I die.”

Hear his story below.

In 2020 we celebrated 10 years of philanthropy. Thanks to the work of our partners, with our support, more than 62,000 young Australians have used education to become the best that they can be.

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