World Skills Cup winner Josh Tobiassen stares down leukaemia demons


Byford’s Josh Tobiassen is waiting on the results of his recent World Skills Cup effort. Picture: Jon Hewson. d455028
Byford’s Josh Tobiassen is waiting on the results of his recent World Skills Cup effort. Picture: Jon Hewson. d455028

BYFORD mechanic Josh Tobiassen represented Australia in a recent World Skills Cup competition, after a battle with leukaemia two years prior that required a bone marrow transplant.

The day after he finished his apprenticeship – and a month before his 21st birthday – Mr Tobiassen was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Without treatment he would have only survived a few months.

“I’d just proposed two months earlier, we had to cancel the engagement party and tell everyone about a week later,” Mr Tobiassen said.

Mr Tobiassen had a blood test after feeling a bit off then was quickly hospitalised when tests showed half his white blood cells were cancerous.

“I was more worried for my fiancée Kristen because it was a big shock,” he said.

“My attitude was ‘let’s just beat it’.”

Blood stem cells drawn from his brother were given to Josh to grow healthy bone marrow.

While the process was fairly straightforward for the donor, Josh’s existing bone marrow first had to be destroyed using the harshest radiation – a process he says took him to the edge.

“I had six sessions in three days and some harsh chemo,” he said.

“I had ulcers in my entire digestive system and couldn’t eat for two weeks. It was so painful, every time I swallowed was like swallowing glass.

He left hospital for a week to get married then returned for a couple more courses of chemotherapy to push the cancer into remission before the transfusion could take place.

Mr Tobiassen said it took up to six months to feel relatively normal again and return to full-time work.

He says he now felt like a 50-year old, mentally and physically, with aches and pains to deal with on a daily basis let alone the impact of facing his mortality so young.

“It taught my wife and I the importance of the little things. When we were dating we had date night every Friday night and we kept it up in hospital even if it was a movie or my favourite burger,” he said.

After leukaemia shelved his hopes of entering a 2013 World Skills competition, he set his sights on the Kia World Skills Cup competition this year, winning nationally a couple of months ago.

He is waiting to hear the results of the recent Kia World Skills Cup where he represented Australia in Korea.

Mr Tobiassen is WA’s first Kia Master Technician, and is also a Master Technician for Mitsubishi, working as foreman at Mitsubishi and Kia in Rockingham.