Marlene Smith is a vivacious and attractive fifty-something Canadian who has been coming to the Islands since 1989 and has made her home in North Side.
During a routine colonoscopy, she had polyps removed, but her surgeon did not seem too concerned and reminded her to schedule another in three years’ time.
It was May 2010 and she had just returned home from Cayman. She booked an appointment with a new doctor, as her usual doctor was preparing to retire. During her consultation he inquired about her last colonoscopy. Since polyps had been discovered and removed during her last colonoscopy, he requested that she did another.
“Well, I procrastinated,” Ms Smith admitted. “Not that the actual colonoscopy is painful – you do not feel or remember a thing. It is mainly the prep work and inconvenience the day before.”
The months flew by and finally by November she could not put it off any longer and finally booked the appointment.
As she was waking from the anaesthesia, her doctor informed her he had removed some polyps and had taken a biopsy of a tumour he had discovered. The results would come back in two weeks.
“Since he was not pleased with what he saw, he sent it on to a cancer clinic for more testing and brought it to the attention of Dr. Simunovic, a colorectal surgical oncologist. He concluded that in the New Year, the tumour should be removed,” Ms Smith said.
On 6 January, 2011, she went to hospital as an outpatient, the surgery was done and she went home to wait for the results. Four days after returning to Cayman, she received a phone call from her surgeon telling her the tumour was malignant and he wanted to operate in the next two to three weeks.
“When I heard the news that I had stage 1 colorectal cancer, I was numb! I literally walked around in shock mode for three days, crying at all times of the day or night. Finally, I realised that I needed to get a grip on things and start thinking positive thoughts,” Ms Smith said.
She began telling all her friends in Cayman what she was about to undergo and that in two weeks, she would have to return to Canada and have surgery.
Her surgery was a success, despite the pain and waking with an ileostomy bag.
“Prior to surgery, I knew I would get an ostomy bag and when I met her, I named her Maxine. She went everywhere with me. Fortunately, the airlines did not charge me for ‘extra baggage’ when I flew. I had to find humour in this somewhere,” said Ms Smith.
“If it had not been for all my friends here in Cayman rallying to keep me busy so that I had no time to think about it, I do not believe I could have done it without them. All their thoughts, concerns and words of encouragement before, during and after my surgery enabled me to be positive throughout the entire ordeal. Emails and phone calls continued, all inquiring as to how ‘Maxine’ and I were coping,” she recalled.
Two weeks after her surgery, the call came in that she had been dreading. The news was good though. Her surgeon had been successful in removing the entire cancerous tumour.
“He told me I would not need chemo or radiation. I cried tears of happiness.” she said.
The road to recovery was a long one, but Ms Smith feels she had been blessed. Nine weeks after surgery, she returned to Cayman to continue resting and healing.
“Four months with Maxine was definitely a learning experience. However, again I was fortunate to be able to return home and have the reversal surgery done. That is where they remove the ostomy bag and reattach my intestines to the bowels. Teaching the bowels to start working again after being shut down for four months is a long, slow, healing process. It took six months to a year. Each month is better than the one before,” she said.
Ms Smith is back to being active. She works out at the gym and does everything she did before. Discovering that she had early stages of colorectal cancer and beating it gave her a whole new outlook on life.
“Life is way too short and I do not take people or things for granted anymore. I continue to try and think positive thoughts even if I am having a bad day,” Ms Smith said.
She encourages everyone older than the age of 50 to get checked by their doctor for colon cancer.
She added: “If you cannot do it for yourself, do it for those that you love. I am a survivor and you could be too if it gets caught in time. Like the old saying goes, ‘Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today’. It could save your life.”
Join the Cayman Islands Cancer Society for an informational session on prostate cancer and colorectal cancers on Thursday, 29 November at the Lions Centre at 7pm. For more information, call 949-7618 or email [email protected]