I’m Hayley Smith, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in October 2015 when I was 21 years old. I work at an underground mine site called Olympic Dam and was living in the mining town Roxby Downs in South Australia when diagnosed. I stayed in Adelaide (600kms from where I lived) for the duration of my treatment as Roxby was too small to offer the treatment I needed.
Nothing will ever prepare you for it. You sure as hell never think it’s going to happen to you. I’ve lost family member to cancer, seen how quickly it can devastate and am not blind to how common it is, yet the thought of it happening to me at 21 years young was SO far from my mind I couldn’t even comprehend the words that came out of the doctors mouth that day.
The initial shock and confusion lasted all of about 24 hours. I’ve been told my whole life by my family and friends that I’m such an adaptable person, no time like being diagnosed with cancer to prove them right hey! You have to have a thick skin to survive in our family, nothing is off limits to make a joke out of and cancer was going to be no exception. Que back to my dad giving me a foot rub while I waited to start chemo for the first time, “It took me getting cancer to get anything good out of you,” I said, to which he replied, “Keep it up and I’ll break it for you instead,” touché Dad, touché. Or when the dreaded peach fuzz hair started coming through in bits and pieces and the six members of my household “support team” collectively called me “kiwi fruit” for the rest of my treatment. My mornings wouldn’t have been as bright if I didn’t wake up to “Good morning kiwi head!” every day for six months, don’t worry though I got my fair share of foot rubs out of them.
Then there was the classic “cancer perks” joke that was ongoing for the duration of my time in Adelaide. The couple of times I got a free coffee *insert me looking at whoever I was with* “cancer perk” I would say every time without fail. That time the guy wiped out all our overdue money at the movie shop, “cancer perk.” I once passed out in the middle of a very busy clothes store while christmas shopping with Dad, the shop owner felt so bad that he gave me the two shirts I was holding for free. Whilst laying there with a wet towel on my head, people walking around me and Dad fanning me down with a random mans newspaper I managed to mutter “cancer perk” under my breath. He laughed and didn’t have a smart remark to throw back at me for once.
I was gaining such a great rapport with my haematologist also, I got touched by an angel when he got assigned to my case. His name was Devendra, affectionately nicknamed “D-man.” He shaved his hair during my treatment to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation’s Worlds Greatest Shave campaign. What a man. All well and good until every appointment I had he would start with “haha my hair is almost longer than yours what’s going on with that?” to which he would get “I bet I’m actually cancer free and you’re just making me do this whole chemo thing to win the hair growing comp. I’m onto you.” Apparently not -- as I was again hooked up to chemo within the next half hour but he did promise to start again from scratch once I finished so it was a fair fight!
There were so many funny things that happened along the way, I didn't go a day without laughing I can say that for sure. Chemo brain has made most of that eight months a bit of a blur but I can happily report that I’ve now been in remission for 22 months and am in a better place in my life than I’ve ever been before. The lessons you learn if you’re willing to listen are irreplaceable. Something that can only come from enduring something so beyond your control.
Finding the humour in everything and the ability to laugh at yourself are the greatest gifts you’re given when you’re facing something so consuming. Without the people I love and the people I met along the way there to laugh with/at me, I would have ending up in a much darker place than I am now. How good is life.