Interview with PT Hirschfield, a Truly Inspiring Person and Passionate Scuba Diver

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PT Hirschfield Andrew Fox

This article was originally featured as part of PADI’s “Women in Diving” series, leading up to PADI Women’s Dive Day on 18th, July 2015. 

By her own words, PT is a “wannabe underwater photographer and film-maker, swimming against terminal endometrial cancer one scuba dive at a time.” Residing in Victoria, Australia, PT has produced some amazing content that showcases the incredible underwater experiences in this part of the world. Facing a difficult challenge with her health, PT strives to live each and every day with positivity.

PT Hirschfield is one inspiring woman, with her passion for scuba diving highly contagious.

PT, what does your diving certification mean to you?

Everyone who knows me well says I have OCD (or Obsessive Compulsive Diving), and I suppose regularly diving for over two hours in 10-14 degree Celcius water might serve as sufficient proof of that. Unfortunately, it was ten years between my first Discover Scuba on the Great Barrier Reef and my Open Water course in Vanuatu in 2010 (nobody told me how truly amazing diving was in the temperate waters of Melbourne!), so now I’m definitely making up for lost time.

Just a few months after returning from Vanuatu with my shiny new cert card, I was diagnosed with advanced endometrial cancer. Returning to the water became my greatest motivation for recovering from my first major surgery. Once I was finally able to dive again, I continued to upskill, eventually completing my PADI Master Scuba Diver certification before I was diagnosed on multiple occasions with recurrent tumours and ultimately told that my condition was not curable. Since the start of my journey with cancer, I have completed over 350 dives (some of which were done during my six months as an ostomate). Each dive helps me to put my challenges into perspective and makes me feel full to overflowing with life, fascination and possibility.

Having been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, how does scuba diving help bring solace to your life?

Palliative radiotherapy has helped to manage my tumours and given me a much better physical quality of life, but I’m convinced that my regular scuba therapy has had the greatest positive impact on my well-being and passion for living. Someone once told me that time spent underwater is not held against the time you have left on land, so that’s a great excuse for me to spend as much time underwater as possible!

Being underwater is my bliss, and I’m passionate about sharing my adventures on my ‘scuba vs tumour’ blog. My quest to always capture an amazing image or piece of footage definitely adds a strong sense of purpose to my life. Blogs are an increasingly powerful medium in modern society, and I am hopeful that everything I share on www.pinktankscuba.com will foster a greater love for the ocean within my audience and inspire them to adopt the most positive approach to whatever challenges they may face in their own lives.

You have some incredible photos and videos of marine life encounters in Australia. What are your top 3 favourite videos and can you share a short story behind them?

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of diving is sharing the underwater world with other divers and with those who for whatever reason may not yet have had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. While I adore diving in places like Fiji, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, Australia truly offers some of the most extraordinary photographic and cinematic opportunities. Highlights have included filming a manta ray gliding within arm’s reach over my head, a blue ringed octopus hunting, sea snakes mating and a Great White Shark having a tumour on its chin biopsied as it swam.  And I’ve become utterly obsessed with filming and photographing the intriguing annual mass aggregations of Giant Spider Crabs in my local waters.

A couple of months after I took footage of a spectacular pyramid of around 1000 spider crabs (my first viral video), I recently managed to film my first spider crab moulting from its shell, followed by the harrowing moment when the same crab was devoured (rather dramatically) by a massive smooth ray. Another memorable moment was when I captured unique footage of the journey of a lone seahorse free swimming endlessly through a labrynth of spider crabs, looking for somewhere to take refuge; apparently it felt safe swimming as close as possible to my camera which gave me a rare chance to document its dilemma. I think my favourite film to date though is a very simple one I call ‘Mesmerise’ that features a large school of tiny silver fish, swimming around my buddy LP and myself.

To me, it is the epitome of serenity and tranquility. Life in the ocean – as in life on land – is a majestic and confounding mixture of suffering and joy, but beauty is always there for those who care enough to find it.

I guess that’s one of the central messages of my Pink Tank Scuba blog and Facebook page.

What do you feel are the most important challenges and opportunities facing women in diving?

I definitely sense that diving is becoming an increasingly gender neutral sport in terms of promotion and uptake. Equipment manufacture is now better taking our needs into account, and I find that I am diving as often with female buddies as I am with males whom I have always found to be extremely accepting, supportive and helpful in a practical sense regarding women’s involvement in the sport. As a temperate diver with some physical limitations,  I still tend to struggle with having to carry so much gear weight. I can only hope that manufacturers are exploring innovative concepts that may one day begin to reduce this physical burden which potentially has a greater impact on female divers.

Do you have any plans for Women’s Dive Day on July 18th?

I am super excited to be visiting Nelson Bay in NSW to participate in Let’s Go Adventures women’s only shark diving event. I believe that Women’s Dive Day is a brilliant initiative to celebrate the participation of all the gorgeous mermaids who are already passionate about diving, and to promote further uptake of the world’s most blissful hobby to all the mermaids-in-waiting.

PT Hirschfield Mark JonesPhoto Credit: Mark Jones