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Kristina’s karate comeback after fight of her life


Cancer survivors have often described finishing treatment as “like falling off a cliff”.

However, Novocastrian Kristina Bircsak is on a mission to raise funds for a centre that can catch you as you fall.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and, after the fight of her life, she rediscovered karate on the path to her emotional and physical recovery.

“I didn’t know who to talk to about what I should do or how this was going to work,” she said.

“So, I pretty much didn’t do anything at all, I stayed at home and started to get a bit depressed.

“I think towards the end I went into a state of shock and just sat there really down, and I ended up in hospital.

“I just sat there for days staring out the window, I felt like I couldn’t do anything [but] after a couple of days, I realised that I needed to
do something, and I needed to get myself out of this depression.”

So, after she had her port removed – a small disc made of plastic or metal that sits just under the skin to administer chemotherapy – Kristina joined The Hunter Valley Martial Arts Centre to start her journey from having cancer to earning her blackbelt.

“I decided that I needed to do something for myself and I needed to get up and move it for my own mental health and for my family’s
mental health as well, so I went back to karate,” she said.

She added that getting into martial arts put her back on track and helped her regain strength.

“Exercise is medicine, it really is, it does so much for our bodies,” she said.

It was through this journey that Kristina found The Kaden Centre, an organisation that provides customised exercise programs to cancer patients.

“The centre is so important, just for the feeling you get when you come and meet other people who are in the same situation,” she said.

“You know they are going through the same things and you can talk to them and then you can have a laugh and have a chat and have that support.

“That’s what I feel I sort of missed when I was going through my [cancer].”

To support the centre, she is raising money amid the journey to earn her blackbelt at the end of the year.

The Kaden Centre’s Managing Director, Suzanne Clark-Pitrolo, said she was very grateful for Kristina’s fundraising efforts.

“We are a charity so all of the fees that are charged here are very heavily subsidised, which means there is a need to raise funds to be able to subsidise it,” she said.

“The very first thing we notice is the improvement in [a patient’s] mental health.

“They’ve found a place that supports them, not with a needle or blood pressure test and all the rest of it but it’s that other side, it’s something they can do for themselves to have a positive impact on their situation.”

Kristina’s initial goal was to raise $1,000 for the centre, however, after already beating that target, she now wants to raise as much money as possible.

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