Liz Smart LR1

 

“I was an energetic and healthy 69 year old, loving our busy life, travelling, doing volunteer work and minding our grandchildren. I did a home bowel screening test and suddenly I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I had no obvious symptoms. 

“For 12 months my life was thrown into turmoil, first the shock, as I had had no symptoms, then the treatment.  Knowing what I’ve been through, I was delighted to share my story and perhaps help save someone else’s life. How brave people said. Brave? Is it brave to want to help?  A simple bowel screen test probably saved my life.”

Liz is a retired Melbourne school teacher who has recently been treated for bowel cancer.  Married with two children and now five grandchildren, her life was full of activity: frequent travel, walking groups, gym, opera, child-minding, volunteering at the Children’s Hospital.

There certainly wasn’t any time to be ill, or any symptoms to suggest anything was wrong. 

Liz was aware of the incidence of bowel cancer, as her husband David had previously had several colonoscopies.  She never had any reason to suspect that she might be at risk of the disease, and had no symptoms.  Luckily for Liz, she decided to do a home bowel screen test, which detected the invisible presence of blood, an early sign of bowel polyps or cancer.  That test saved her life.

Liz was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April 2009.  The cancer had also spread to her lymph glands.  She was soon scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour, and started chemotherapy in June, the first of 12 rounds.  The treatment was long, painful and unpleasant, and the side effects very debilitating.

Liz has been writing children’s stories for the last 10 years, an activity which gives her much pleasure.  As a way of coping with her treatment, her husband suggested that she keep a diary of what she was feeling.  Liz decided to go ahead, and found the process of keeping a journal did help, and was a way of keeping her family and friends aware and involved in what she was going through.  Not only a record of what she was feeling, Liz included lots of details, diagrams of the bowel, explanations of various medical procedures and more.  She called her journal “Twelve Months - a journey through bowel cancer”, and is hoping a cancer organisation would like to publish it to help prepare other patients and their families.  Some excerpts from Liz’s journal:

Tuesday 21st April, 2009

Into day surgery at 7am for the colonoscopy....I awoke from the anaesthetic to be greeted by the surgeon saying a tumour had been located in my sigmoid colon. It had to be removed.  ‘But, we are going overseas in three weeks.’

‘No, you’re not.’

Wednesday 29th April, 2009

My darling sister flew over from Tasmania for the night.From a much-needed cup of coffee and with my very pregnant daughter accompanying us, we proceeded to Docklands, exploring the shops and enjoying lunch. We laughed and cried, hugged, laughed again but underneath and unspoken, we all carried the dark cancer threat.That evening, we sojourned to our favourite restaurant, the culmination of an outwardly happy day.Was this the Last Supper?

Wednesday 13th May, 2009- and my return home

It was oh so, so good to be in my own bed again.

 ‘You’re looking amazing,’ visitors commented. When I thought to look in the mirror I received a terrible shock. There, peering at me were my 95-year-old father’s gaunt and sunken eyes staring back.  A large brown age mark had appeared on my cheek, highlighted by my pale face. I really do look amazing I thought!

Friday 10th July, 2009- Chemotherapy Two

It was with some trepidation that I approached this day. It had been hanging over me all week, the thought of the whole repeat performance and the subsequent nausea. My body felt totally flattened. I was dreading it - and another ten treatments to follow.

Friday 18th December, 2009- Chemotherapy Twelve (Final)

What a long haul it has been. I couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived.It was with a feeling of elation I approached the hospital - the first time I had looked forward to the treatment. I think I felt more keyed-up at this stage than I felt throughout all the previous months.

Friday 9th April, 2010 - the next follow up appointment with the oncologist

The dreaded day arrived and, was survived. Having been greeted by the oncologist, we entered his room.

‘Perfect,’ he said ‘your results were perfect.’

Flopping into the nearest chair I experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief. I was sure I was fine, in fact knew I was, but it was so good to have that confirmation. My blood results were excellent, no sign of cancer.

Congratulations from an old school friend

I have tears of joy as I respond to your wonderful email. Yours was a battle well fought and nobly won - it is just the best news.

Epilogue

My life has taken on a different perspective. I won’t ever be the same and the thought of cancer lingers, tucked away, but present. Life is beautiful and - I want to see my gorgeous grandchildren grow up.

The future is golden.

Liz is committed to her role as an Ambassador for Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer.  She hopes by sharing her story, that people will become more aware of bowel cancer, and to do a simple bowel screen test at home every couple of years.