Rugby league can help open doors for women
I had two brothers that played rugby league. My older brother Peter played for Penrith and my younger brother Paul played for Canterbury. Paul started playing footy when he was three and mum or I would take him to training.
The boys were from two different eras - Peter was around in the 1970s and Paul in the 1980s and 1990s. The football was totally different but it was always exciting, and it was always the main topic of conversation in our house. My mother's uncle, Tom Fitzpatrick, was a Kangaroo who played for the Roosters – that's where Peter and Paul get their footy bloodline from.
I actually got involved in footy through publishing. I had my own publishing business doing sport magazines, and I did a magazine for Manly for about nine years. Then Penrith asked me to go there to look after their magazine for the leagues club and the football club.
In 2006, while working at Penrith, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had to be hospitalised for a year. The Panthers were exceptional. They let me continue doing my work when I could, there was no pressure and they were always there for me.
We set up Panthers Women in League that year. I was moved over to the football office and it was a group idea to create the 'Pink Panthers' jersey. We didn't realise at the time how much of an impact it would have in regards to women's issues, women's health, and women in general. It exceeded all expectations.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I was in the midst of organising a 600-person dinner for a boy with autism – he was the son of one of the players. Professor John Rasko from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital told me: "If we save your life, I want you on my board". So of course, he saved my life and I'm in remission. He then got me involved in a board at RPA, 'Cure the Future', and from there I became the Chair of that board.
I have also become the Chair of a board at Prince of Wales Hospital for the Australian Gynaecology Foundation which will be launched in Canberra on May 27. I've always supported charities with my time, and the Panthers allow me to do my charity work along with my football work.
Whether it is mothers, grandmothers, sisters or aunties, women play a huge role in rugby league. There are ladies at all levels and I think that's important because they see the game from a different perspective than a man.
For young women coming through the game, it doesn't necessarily need to be about football all the time. You don't necessarily need to be a football person - you can have a career that incorporates other life pursuits. I don't want people to think "Di was born into a football family and that's why she works at the Panthers". My background was a personal assistant, then publishing, then owning my own business and now my work with charities and boards.
That's another great thing about football and the NRL – they support a lot of charities. Rugby league does open a lot of doors that you normally could not open.