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An inspirational story by Jacqui Smith
At first, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed then cried, then ranted, then cried...

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My Story by Jacqui Smith

I was out having dinner when my doctor called with my biopsy results. They were not good, he said, and I would need to see an oncologist as soon as possible. I remember driving home thinking that this was impossible; this could not be part of my story. Not again! But that was the truth, the gut-wrenching, terrifying, heart breaking truth. Cancer. My entire world became empty in those few seconds of conversation, like a black hole that was engulfing me. I couldn’t breathe or talk or cry or think. It felt as if my life had ended with those words.

Almost thirty years ago, I had had the same conversation with a doctor. And I had undergone therapies for a different type of cancer. And for more than a quarter of a century I knew that I would never have chemo again. That if, somehow (what are the odds?), I was diagnosed with cancer again, I would not treat it. I would say my farewells and spend my final days watching the waves crash meaninglessly over a sandy beach. But that was before I met my team and found myself agreeing to a year of treatments that would save my life.

When I sat across the desk from my oncologist hearing him map out my somewhat lengthy treatment programme, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and hormone therapy, I found myself nodding in agreement I don’t know where I got the strength to fight this battle. It was one I did not want to fight and asked desperately (perhaps begged is more truthful) that my doctor not throw me in the ring. But he was certain it was my best chance and the only option he would consider. I chose to trust him. And I am grateful I did.

At first, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed then cried, then ranted, then cried. I was lucky enough to have a psychologist as part of my treatment team and it was her advice that helped me walk through the doors of the treatment room for the first time and every time after that. I decided that if I was going to go through chemotherapy, I would embrace it. I would be thankful every time I felt the cold rush of medication pulsating through my body.

Every time hair fell out, I would be encouraged that the chemo must be working. And every time the pain or exhaustion overwhelmed me, I would fight through it so that I would be strong enough to have chemo again. I am eternally grateful to the researchers who have designed medication to help with so many of the side effects, and so, amongst other things, the iconic nausea of chemo was never part of my experience.

COVID restrictions had just been enforced, and so, driving to my first chemotherapy session was like missing out on an invitation to a party to which everyone else had been invited. The streets were empty. The parking lot was empty. My soul felt empty. But I was embraced with such love and hope that there were times I didn’t want to leave the treatment room. It became a haven for me; where people uplifted each other, supported each other, and truly wished the best for you even when they didn’t know who you were or what your story was.

This is not a journey I have travelled alone. My strength came from my family and friends, my faith and the medical staff who cared for me. I was carried, literally and figuratively, from the first day of my diagnosis, from receiving messages and jokes seemingly just when I needed a good laugh, to a hospital security guard happy to see me again, to the night nurse gently checking my vitals at 4am, to the phlebotomist worrying about giving me a bruise on his attempts to find a viable vein, to my chemo sister who has become a good friend. I am eternally thankful for them all. And to God.

If I am honest, going though and getting through chemotherapy was incredibly hard work. There were times I was sure I was going to have to quit. There were times I was angry, at myself, the world, and the cancer. There were times I was so exhausted I didn’t think I would ever have the strength to walk again. And there were times I was just deeply sad. But like so many things in our lives which are incredibly hard: the rewards really do outweigh the pain.

And my reward is that the treatments have worked and my cancer is gone. I don’t believe my journey with cancer will ever be over because an experience like this leaves a mark which never really leaves you. And so I will continue to fight; believing in my doctors and my treatments; thankful to be given the strength to fight; and forever faithful that I will win.

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