My name is Tracy Stoddart. I am a 50 years old, Cervical Cancer Survivor from a small town in the Eastern Cape called Humansdorp (about 80km outside Port Elizabeth).
This is my story…
The 3 words that no one wants to hear…..”Unfortunately, it’s cancer!”
These 3 words completely blew me away. I’ve always felt that cancer was something that happened to other people…. Never me. Hearing those words, and knowing they were directed at me, completely broke me. It was obviously not what I wanted to hear, although deep down, I knew that something was wrong…..but no, PLEASE NO, not cancer.
That is when my hamster wheel journey began!
Here is a quick timeline of my journey:
7 January 2020
Doc appointment for general check-up as I hadn’t been feeling too great for a couple of months. Had a full medical done including pap smear.
9 January 2020
Received call from my doctor saying there were abnormalities found in my pap smear and he would arrange for an appointment with local Gynae to check things out.
15 January 2020
Appointment with Gynae – she did various examinations and tests.
21 January 2020
Booked into hospital for a colposcopy.
23 January 2020
Received the daunting call….”please can you and your husband come in to see Doctor. That is when I heard those dreaded words. Unfortunately, it’s cancer she said.
24 January 2020
CT scan at Greenacres Hospital in PE.
25 January 2020
Doctor phoned to say CT scan results were back, and she was forwarding them to surgeons in Cape Town to see if I fitted the criteria for a radical hysterectomy.
27 January 2020
Received the devastating news that the specialist surgeons in Cape Town had declined the request for a radical hysterectomy saying the tumour was too big, and because of where it was situated, they could not be able to be 100% certain if they would get it all out in surgery. I was devastated to say the least! I did not want the chemo. I had seen what my cousin had been through with her breast cancer journey, and I did not want to go down that road. Besides, I had already mentally planned the whole trip to Cape Town for the hysterectomy.
29 January 2020
Had my first appointment with my amazing Oncologist, Dr Schoeman at Cancer Care PE.
She explained the treatment process and the possibility of getting on a new trial drug for cervical cancer. The trial program would basically cover all medical costs AND monitor me for the next 3 years.
What a bonus….. no financial implication on my medical aid whatsoever. I was told to take a few days to think about it and to discuss it with my family before making any decisions. We decided that I would join the trial program.
7 February 2020
Cancer Care wanted their own CT scan done…. And I received my radiation tattoos.
12 February 2020
Appointment with my Oncologist and Trial Program Oncologist as they needed to confirm the stage of my cancer before going on with the trial program application. What do you know…? I was not sick enough to join the program. I was diagnosed with Stage2b cervical cancer, and the trial program requirements were Stage3 or Stage4. Although my tumour was rather large (6cm), the cancer had not moved into my lymph glands. My Oncologist assured me she would work out my treatment plan, get it approved and I would start treatment the following week.
18 February 2020
My chemo and radiation treatment began (5 x chemo, 30 radiation and then 4 Brachytherapy sessions).
26 March 2020
Was my final radiation session.
1 April 2020
Booked into hospital for procedure to prep me for brachytherapy.
2,3,6 & 7 April
Brachytherapy sessions. 7th was my last treatment date and I got to sign the 2020 Radiation Sunflower painting at Cancer Care PE.
After the shock of hearing the news, I felt God saying that I just needed to trust Him. I was reminded of 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” I stopped praying for God to heal me, but for me to trust Him on this journey.
I later learnt that if I had had the hysterectomy, I still would have had the chemo and radiation anyway….. God had spared me that pain and cost. He was in control.
From 18 February to 26 March the amazing Cancer Care team controlled my life….from taking my bloods, checkups, monitoring, scanning, and measuring my every move.
My life was on a strict schedule:
Monday = bloods + radiation
Tuesday = Chemo + radiation
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday = radiation
Which left Saturday and Sunday to recover and prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for the next round.
I had the most amazing support group praying and caring for me. I am so grateful for every prayer. They kept my going….kept me fighting. I felt the Lord’s presence with me throughout the whole process.
The worst part out the whole process was when the treatment ended. Yes, I know it sounds crazy. Of course, it was great and such a huge relief. BUT I felt like I had been dropped like a hot potato. I had been on this hamster wheel for 8 weeks. My every move being monitored. I had been escorted through the whole process…. and then, suddenly, it all came to a blinding halt. I was left to fend for myself.
Unless you have physical experienced life with cancer, I don’t think you can every fully relate. Most people tend to think that “oh well, now the treatment is over, she’ll be back to her usual pre-cancer self.” And I cannot blame anyone for thinking that way…. I too was guilty of it. I have known people / families who have been affected by this horrid disease, and yes, I prayed for them. And I hurt for them. BUT one can never fully understand what a person goes through unless you have been through it yourself or watched a loved one go through it.
I now understand 100% the anxiety a cancer patient feels when you hear the words “please pray, I’m going for my bloods.” That anxiety of waiting to hear if your body is healthy enough to handle another round of poison is so overwhelming.
The truth is…. I will NEVER be that pre-cancer Tracy again.
I am nearly 2 years cancer free…. But am reminded daily of my cancer journey, as my body is no longer the same. I am finally beginning to love and accept the new me. Yes, I struggle with long-term side effects of the treatment, and the anxiety of the cancer returning. But I am grateful for the good God has done and will continue to do. I am healthy, have a more positive outlook on life, and I appreciate the things I so easily took for granted.
My cancer journey was something I was going to deal with and then sweep it under the carpet and carry on with my life. But after watching my cousin, Nikki Pennel, and the way she handled her journey, she inspired me to be open about my experience.
You never know. Your story may just be what someone else needs to hear to encourage and inspire them….. the same way Nikki encouraged and inspired me.