Meagan Heffernan was 10 when she first noticed the pain in her back.
Months of appointments later, three weeks after she turned 11, the Whangārei resident received a shattering diagnosis - she had 42 tumours in her torso and around two months to live.
Now 23, the cancer survivor recalls one of the tumours that corroded two of her ribs, collapsing her left lung and pushing her heart to the centre of her chest.
"I was just hobbling around and I had to quit netball and dance. I was at home on the first day of term 4 when my dad got the call to go to Starship," she tells the Herald.
"Dad said, we're going to Starship and I started freaking out. So they did a biopsy on me to see how the tumour would react to chemo and then they initially told me I had about two months to live."
Heffernan immediately started treatment and spent the next three weeks in isolation in Starship Children's Hospital. A year of intensive treatment and a year of maintenance followed, for the 11-year-old.
Surprisingly, she responded so well to the treatment that "things felt back to normal pretty quickly", Heffernan says.
"For a while I was that weird bald kid that showed up at school.
"In the initial phase I was quite weak but soon I was back to school and dance and I got to do PE and hockey. There were no long-term effects, I feel quite lucky."
Heffernan became eligible for CanTeen, a charity which provides peer support for young people living with cancer, in Year 12. She contacted the Waikato branch, but when she went to university in Wellington in 2015, she felt a little isolated.
"It was a good environment at uni but no one knew what I'd been through."
Heffernan finished five years of university at Victoria University and graduated early in December last year - "I've never failed anything I wanted to do," she says.
With both a law degree and a BA in criminology under her belt, she now works as a judge's clerk at the Whangārei District Court.
Heffernan has now been cancer-free for 12 years and is helping other young people to deal with its impact as a CanTeen Member Ambassador and leader.
The judge's clerk says it's about supporting young people mentally as well as offering physical support.
"There are actually other aspects to it than physical wellness. That community aspect is really important, it provides an environment for people to challenge themselves."
Heffernan says while lockdown put the brakes on a lot of CanTeen's work, one of its goals is to get more support for people in the regions outside Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, where most of the support is based.
"It's just about having people around you who understand or have had a similar experience to yours.
"However you might be feeling or whatever you're going through, it's so important for people experiencing cancer to be able to engage in normal everyday activities."
Despite what she has been through in her 23 years, Heffernan said her experience with cancer shaped her into the person she is today.
"It made me more determined and motivated. Twelve years on it gets harder to remember, but I'm grateful for everything I went through.
"You've got to go for the things that you want and going through cancer has just made me even more strong-willed."
To learn more about CanTeen or donate, visit their website here.