Sky-high dreams for cancer survivor

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Chayde Tooley at the flight controls in an aircraft simulator

For Chayde Tooley, a career amongst the clouds was always the plan. Native of New Zealand, Chayde spent his childhood watching planes take off from Palmerston North Airport and knew that some day he would be the one flying aeroplanes.

That plan came to a devastating halt in September 2016 with a diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Chayde said his initial reaction was panic about his future career.

“At first obviously it hurt more not being able to fly because I worked so hard to get up to that point, and I was only a few months away from starting my [flight] training; then being told you can’t fly because of the cancer.. that hurt,” he said.

“The fact of actually having cancer hit me later.”

It would be understandable for Chayde to put his studies on pause, to focus on his recovery, but during his 51 chemotherapy treatments he remained a full time student, and switched from a Flight Operations major to an Aviation Management pathway. In that time, he maintained a grade point average of 5.8 – an achievement that puts him at a Second Class Honours level.

Chayde said he could not have continued study if it wasn’t for the flexibilty and guidance of USQ staff, particularly Professor Paul Bates – Head of Aviation and Logistics at the Springfield Campus.

“Everyone was really supportive, especially with the transition from the Flight Operations to Aviation Management part,” he said. “Even a few of my classmates did World’s Greatest Shave in honour of me.”

Professor Bates said Mr Tooley’s success was a testament to his determination in pursuing a life in aviation.

“He was always a hardworking guy but a fairly typical student, however his diagnosis was where I really saw his inner strength come out,” Professor Bates said.

“I saw him on days where he was very grey looking and unwell and yet he still came to uni and he still succeeded.

“At the time I thought ‘I don’t know about that, I don’t know how sick he’s going to be’ and that used to worry me but it did seem to help him.

“He’s got amazing inner strength and I think that’s helped him with the cancer, university and his career.”

Currently, Chayde is working as a ramp coordinator at Brisbane Airport. With more than enough on his schedule, he also landed an internship at Qantas’ catering centre at the Brisbane Airport through CareerTrackers. That internship proved his work ethic to management, and landed him the paid role he has today.

Chayde is on track to finish university this year and has a short term goal of working in Flight Dispatching post graduation, but his real dream of flying planes still remains.

With his eyes firmly on the sky, Chayde will have to patiently wait to be in remission five years from now to chase that lifelong dream of being a commercial pilot.