18 November 2019
Sam’s head was left spinning in 2018 when doctors told her “You have cancer, it is terminal and you have about a year to live”. In that moment, her thoughts immediately turned to her two young boys and the reality that she wasn’t going to see them grow up. Then, the incredible happened. Sam responded really well to her treatment and scans showed her cancer ‘could no longer be detected’. Until just six months ago. This is Sam’s heartbreaking yet deeply inspirational story that she has chosen to share ahead of a Christmas that might be her last.
I’m Sam—a young mum to two wonderful boys who are just 6 and 11 years old. And if cancer has its way, for me, that’s how old my children will stay.
As a mum you expect to be there as your kid’s futures unfold. To be there for their 21st birthdays, to be at their school graduations, to be at their weddings… you expect to be able to watch your kids grow up.
What you don’t expect is to be told that you won’t live to see their next birthday.
My life before cancer was a life I can only describe as ‘normal’ and happy. I was a mother, working part-time in my family business, living in our family home.
But under the surface, my life wasn’t ‘normal’. Little did I know each day I was living, there was cancer growing inside of me.
I visited my doctor after feeling run down, tired and weak, having accepted that what I was feeling was ‘unhealthy’—I knew something was not right, but I never in my wildest imaginations thought it would be cancer.
After undergoing a routine Pap smear I was sent for testing on other areas of my reproductive system—including blood tests. It was during a specialist appointment that I was told everything was NOT fine. They had found a tumour.
The first day of June in 2018 was the day I will never forget. A day that changed my life forever and brought complete fear into my life. A day of darkness, disbelief and sadness. My head spun as the doctors said, “You have cancer,” followed by, “It is terminal and you have about a year to live”.
My first thought was “I’m not going to see my boys grow up—my boys are going to grow up without their Mummy”. It was that thought—the thought of my boys living a life without me in it—which changed my thinking.
I now think “I am going to live because my boys need me, and I need them.”
I started radiotherapy immediately—10 rounds in total. This treatment was followed with chemotherapy. After six months of treatment my follow up scan had “significantly” good results—the tumour had shrunk beyond expectations and the cancer that had spread could no longer be detected.
I felt like a miracle. When the first day of June rolled around this year I celebrated reaching that uncertain milestone with all of my family and friends.
When he gave me the good news, my oncologist also made me aware that while they could no longer detect cancer within my body, I should prepare myself in case the cancer did come back, and I listened to them.
From that first day of my diagnosis I have valued every moment so much more… my children’s birthdays, what I thought could be our last Christmas, moments with my friends and family and fundraising and supporting Cancer Council—the organisation that supported me in my time of need—all with the belief that cancer was behind me, at least for a while.
During those nine wonderful months with my boys—making the most of every minute of our time together—the oncologists words “it will become active again one day” sat in the back of my mind. The thought of secondary cancer constantly there.
And then in August, my world came crashing down for the second time.
I went for a bone scan to investigate some unexplained pain I’d been having in my lower back, left shoulder and neck.
The night before my results, my boys gave me a big hug to wish me well and they said “You’re going to be fine mum—you have to be fine because we need you.”
As soon as we sat down in the doctor’s office to hear the results, I knew something wasn’t right.
I crossed my fingers that the results would come back ok. But they didn’t.
“We found a spot” the doctor said. “It’s on your liver.”
I felt numb.
I was sent for more tests—from MRI’s and PET scans—to determine what the spot was. I was instantly taken back to what seemed like the same time last year when I was told I was going to die. It took two days for the results of my PET scan, but it felt like two years.
The phone rang and with my head in my hands, I heard the oncologist say “The scan shows the cancer has reappeared in your liver and pelvis.”
He said it with professionalism and compassion and I realised, with tears filling my eyes, that these are words he speaks to people every day. Words I would hate to tell someone, but words I now had to tell my friends and family... words I had to tell my two boys. “My cancer has returned.”
Now I face an uncertain future as to how my body will respond to the next course of treatment.
All I know right now is that being with my boys is more important than ever. I hold onto my boys’ words: “You’re going to be fine mum—you have to be fine because we need you.”
I ask anyone reading this to close your eyes and imagine hearing the words, “You have cancer” or “your cancer has returned”. What would you do? I am the reality of the person that was told those words.
I never thought it would happen to me, but it has. It is what it is, and I am prepared to overcome this with every muscle, emotion and power I have. I will not let cancer define my life. It will not defy the person I am or the person I am going to be.
I hope that I will be able to spend this Christmas—and many others—with my boys and with those who have stood by my side through not one, but two cancer diagnoses.
For me, this is just another hurdle to jump over… another push to challenge me to get to where I need to be. And right now I need to be here for Christmas. So, this Christmas, please think of me and my boys and enjoy spending the season with your loved ones, just as I hope to.
And if you can, why not give a gift straight from the heart… a gift to fund Cancer Council’s research projects to help cancer patients like me receive the maximum benefit from cancer treatments.
This is a gift that will go a long way in supporting the thousands of South Australians and their loved ones who are impacted by cancer every minute, every hour, every day.