Sophie Stapleford was told she would never play football again at the age of 21.
The Maitland FC captain was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in 2015 which changed her life.
One of the biggest challenges for Stapleford after receiving her diagnosis was hearing the news that she would be unable to return to football.
“I was told I wouldn’t play soccer again, which that was the toughest one for me,” Stapleford said.
“It was devastating. Ever since I was 13, I could play the sport that I loved and then all of a sudden at 21 your whole life just comes to a halt.
“Hearing that just broke my heart.
“[But] there was something that I always knew that I would get back out there somehow. Even though the doctors said I wouldn’t, I just knew.”
Stapleford credited her support system of family and friends as well as her own mindset in helping her through her cancer journey.
“You have to have that positive attitude and the mentality,” Stapleford said.
“I was fortunate enough to have a good family, have a good friendship group that supported me through the highs and the lows. All the mountains that we had to climb together are super important to have that support group.”
Stapleford had successful outcomes from surgery but her recovery is ongoing.
“After surgery all of the outcomes were exactly what we wanted in terms of the tumour being removed but there are the obvious side effects from surgery,” Stapleford said.
“You now have chronic fatigue, a lower immune system and all of the side effects that you might get from surgery.”
Almost two years after her diagnosis against all odds, Stapleford remarkably returned to football.
Since her return her footballing career has skyrocketed, becoming captain of Maitland’s NPL Women’s NNSW side and signing her first professional contract with the Newcastle Jets in 2022.
“I think it’s only been recently that I have realised how big of an achievement that was. To actually make professional football, that’s something people dream of and with the journey I’ve been through that’s almost unrealistic,” Stapleford said.
“I can play soccer, I have a somewhat healthy life but other people aren’t fortunate enough to have that same outcome.
“I think only recently, I have realised how proud of me I am. I have never really told myself that.
“I hope people find strength in my story. I want to be that role model and good example people can look at no matter what their journey is because everybody has a story.”
Stapleford will lead the Magpies first grade side out against New Lambton on Sunday wearing special Brain Cancer Awareness playing shirts. The clubs will also hold a fundraiser to help spread awareness about brain cancer in honour of the Magpies captain.
Stapleford hopes the match helps shine some much-needed light on the disease and to start some important conversations.
“There’s not enough talk about it. It’s one of the leading killers and no one talks about it,” Stapleford said.
“There is no awareness, there’s no knowledge of it.
“It’s important to raise that awareness that people don’t understand yet and hopefully raise a little bit of money with the fundraiser as well.
“If my story can go to someone else and they can say ‘if Soph can do it then maybe I can get through it as well’. That’s important to me to show people that there is hope even when it’s the dark times.”
The fixture being against New Lambton also means a lot to Stapleford, as she gets to go head-to-head with some of her closest friends and Newcastle Jets teammates.
“I think that playing New Lambton was a good choice for me, for the round and for the jersey,” Stapleford said.
“For brain cancer obviously being a very close part of me, being able to play against some of your best friends as well and playing with some of your best friends, I mean what more could you want.
“The weekend will be special despite the result.”
Maitland FC will take on New Lambton at Cooks Square Park in the Match of the Round on Sunday at 4pm.
The Magpies will be buoyed from celebrating their Women’s State Cup triumph last weekend, with Maitland in a three-way battle with leaders Broadmeadow Magic and Newcastle Olympic in the race for the premiership.
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