7 June 2018

An Aboriginal teenager who lost an eye to a rare cancer 14 years ago says learning to drive has transformed her and her family's life.

This story was written by Tom Joyner and was originally published on ABC News Goldfields

Loretta Lennon, 18, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in 2004 before undergoing emergency surgery to stem its spread to her brain.

But she said after obtaining her P-plates 18 months ago, her personal confidence had grown and she felt empowered to achieve whatever she could dream of. Ms Lennon was able to learn to drive thanks to our free LWB Aboriginal driver training program offered in parts of Western Australia.

"It's peaceful, it's really lovely. I love to drive myself, even though I've only been driving for a little period of time."

While gaining the right to drive is a rite of passage for many teenagers, Ms Lennon is the first person in her family to obtain a licence. "It takes me about 20 minutes to the max to actually get used to it properly," she said. "Then I can drive around with no nervous feeling inside of me, no anxiety or anything. "It's peaceful, it's really lovely. I love to drive myself, even though I've only been driving for a little period of time."

While being able to drive from one place to another may seem simple, driving has literally changed Ms Lennon's life. "I'd actually built a barrier on being a bit confident, but now I think I'm just breaking out of that little shell," she said.

"I'm a bit of a closed-in type of person, but I can do a lot of things now I'm willing to open up to." The program is aimed at helping Aboriginal people support their families, gain independence and find a job through empowering them to drive. Manager Tanya Gartner said the program had been a huge success since it started in 2014, with 238 of its graduates passing their test to date.

"We've had people who have been able to move back to country, back to their communities and support their families back there and also assist people coming out from the lands for medical treatment," Ms Gartner said. Ms Lennon now has ambitions to find a new job and eventually run for public office in her hometown, where the majority of leadership positions are held by non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"There's a few things I want to do, but there's a main thing I want to do which is hopefully if I do get to that stage is being a mayor," she said. "Looking after my place, my country, my land, my people. I reckon I'll have a good role at that there. "[I'll run in] probably five, six, seven years. But it'll be there one day." Ms Lennon must still make regular trips to Perth for surgeries, medical check-ups, and to maintain the artificial eye she uses in her left socket.

Her mother, Jillian McIntyre, said she was proud of how far her daughter had come in spite of her partial vision, but had not expected she would ever be able to drive. "We thought that the last thing she was going to get was her driver's licence, being blind in her left eye," Ms McIntyre said.

"She comes home and says she's passed her test and I'm like 'wow'. That's a massive step up in her life and her career." Ms McIntyre now has no doubt her daughter is destined for great things, and that being blind in one eye is not going to stop her. "Oh wow, I am overproud. Being blind in her left eye doesn't make her any different to anybody else," she said. "She's like a normal person who has two eyes, but for her to have one eye, she's really achieved a lot."

To learn more about the Driver Trainer Program in WA please email mac@lwb.org.au

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