13 November 2018
This National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Sam Smithson shares her experience being diagnosed with cervical cancer and told she had just a year to live.
My life before cancer was a life I can describe as normal—a mother of two boys, aged 10 and five, a wife of 14 years, I was working part time in my family business, I was living in our family home, surrounded with a garden of roses, fruit trees, a house filled with games and toys—so it all sounds normal right?
My normal life was mistaken—little did I know each day I was living, there was cancer growing inside of me. My normal life was filled with stress, complications, anger and sadness—my marriage was on the rocks and I despised the mother and wife I was pretending to be.
I assumed my symptoms were a sign of my self-being, a sign of my life as it was, a sign that my life needed alterations. So, my marriage folded like an A4 piece of paper into two rough folds—it folded vertically once and then again horizontally—then slipped into an envelope and sealed my life. That envelope was delivered to me six weeks later with the news that changed my life forever.
Knowing I had put my health on hold, I visited the doctor’s as I accepted my health was ‘unhealthy’—I was tired, I was experiencing heavy blood loss, stomach cramps, depression and overall weakness. I knew something was not right, but I never in my wildest imagination thought it would be cancer.
I am a person who has regular Pap smear tests, and I have always been thankful for the negative results of discovering cancer. Upon the results of my last Pap smear, I was sent for testing on other areas of my reproductive system, including blood tests, which all came back with results of “everything is fine”. It was the day my Mirena required removal, which spoke the words to me “‘everything is NOT fine”.
I was sent to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for a biopsy. That same day I was admitted into the hospital and underwent a CT scan, MRI and PET scan.
I was delivered that sealed envelope three days later—June 1 2018, a day I will never forget and a day that changed my life forever. A day that brought complete fear into my life, a day of darkness, unbelief 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 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 am not going to see my boys grow up—oh my God, 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. Treatment was followed with chemotherapy, which I am still undergoing. I am responding well with treatment, which I believe is a result of my positive attitude with a powerful mind guiding me into well-beingness. I have found the ability to accept who I am; I believe in myself, I like myself, I feel confident and I feel I have a purpose in life. I have also managed to learn how to forgive, an emotion and a feeling I once found difficult to do.
My last scan had “significantly” good results—the tumor has shrunk beyond expectations and the intruders (the cancer that has spread) can no longer be detected. The word ‘significantly’ now holds a new meaning in my vocabulary. It’s a word that holds hope.
One of my hardest obstacles while trying to look after my own recovery is feeling the guilt as I watch my loved ones struggling to come to terms with my diagnosis. My family and friends (including my ex-husband) have boarded my train and are passengers I can only describe as angels. They have put their lives on hold, while travelling my journey with me. Their support has aided me to where I am today, and I am forever thankful.
I am also thankful for the support from Cancer Council SA, a team of people, who in their own hearts are gifted with inspiration, knowledge, and a shoulder to cry on. I contacted Cancer Council SA from the very beginning searching for answers and direction—I needed help with telling my boys I had cancer and I was guided onto the right path. It helped me move from a sign with arrows pointing left, right, backwards into a sign with an arrow pointing forward.
Before I was diagnosed, I never even knew what the HPV virus was. It's too late for me to have the vaccination, but I urge anyone who is eligible to please take advantage of the scheme and have the vaccine—it could save your life.
I ask anyone reading this to close your eyes and hear the words, “You have one year to live”. 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 beat 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.
So I ask you to please love the person you are. You are worthy, you are special, you do have a purpose in life—whether you are the person who has cancer or the person who is coping with a loved one going through cancer. Don’t let cancer choose the way you live. You can choose life, and you can change the ending.
Please feel free to follow my blog, my fork-you cancer site.
On 1 December 2017, Australia switched to a renewed cervical cancer screening program. The new Cervical Screening Test is more effective than the old Pap test, because it tests for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)—the precursor to almost all cases of cervical cancer.
Are you up to date with your cervical cancer screening schedule? National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (12–18 November) is your chance to make sure.