Sandra Campbell’s morning swim sessions at Balmoral became increasingly difficult as severe pain in her lower back slowly escalated.
A month earlier, her life had been turned upside down when she had a miscarriage at 18 weeks pregnant and had to undergo surgery afterwards.
Initially, she attributed the back pain to the miscarriage.
“I was swimming three times a week and the pain was getting worse,” Sandra told 9Honey. “I should do the fetal position so I can keep swimming.”
Sandra reported the problem several times to her GP, who carried out tests but never found anything.
As her health deteriorated slightly, the mother-of-two also noticed a small lump forming in her stomach area which looked like “a little knot of muscles”.
“When I went to the doctor, I kept mentioning this little bump above my navel,” she says. “But every time I brought it up, the doctor barely touched it and always told me ‘no, no, it’s nothing to worry about.'”
Over the months, Sandra’s symptoms persisted.
Her feelings of concern were finally legitimized when she explained her symptoms to a friend – who works as a doctor – and was asked to get checked out.
“When I spoke to my friend, that’s when I knew things weren’t right and I wasn’t okay.”
While visiting another doctor, Sandra was referred for an ultrasound and after a few more scans she received some bad news.
“They found a tumor almost 3 centimeters long in my pancreas,” she says. “And it had already metastasized to the liver.”
Sandra had stage four liver and pancreatic cancer.
“It happened after a year of trying to get doctors’ attention.”
When Sandra broke the heartbreaking news to her husband and friends, she didn’t cry.
While they all received the news in tears, they were puzzled by her lack of emotion surrounding the heartbreaking diagnosis.
“My husband would look at me and say, ‘you don’t understand what’s going on.'”
To who said, “Of course, I knew that. But somehow, there was something inside me that kept saying, ‘Okay, that’s what I ai, I have to fight it and I will do whatever I have to. “
What really pushed Sandra to keep her songwriter was her two young children.
“Telling my kids was the hardest part,” she says.
Before the conversation with her children, she decided with her husband and close family friends that they would not mention the words “chemo” or “cancer”.
“I didn’t want to say those words because they’re scary. I said [my kids] that the doctors took a small sample of something from my stomach and the results weren’t good.”
Sandra explained that she would have to undergo some procedures and that she could lose her hair, but assured her children that “everything would be fine”.
Unfortunately, Sandra’s attempt to be “vague” about her diagnosis did not help and her children ended up wondering if she had cancer.
“I told them I had cancer and admitted I didn’t want to tell them initially because I didn’t want to scare them.”
“I just told them, ‘look at me, I’m not going anywhere.’ And then my little one came to hug me and said, ‘Mom, you’re not going to die, are you?'”
“I said, ‘This thing we’re going to fight is a monster, but I have to fight it. And we’re going to do it. We’re all going to fight it together,'” Sandra recalled, “That moment, was probably where it was really difficult and confronting for me.”
In the months that followed, life was not easy for Sandra.
“My husband and I had bought a house in early November, then I was diagnosed on November 13,” she says. “We had to move on December 10 and my first chemotherapy was on December 2.”
Sandra reflects on this period and does not focus on the stressful aspect of it but rather on the “beautiful” parts.
“I think every time a tragedy or something really bad happens, so many great things happen afterwards.”
“When we had to move, we had about 30 people in our house helping move things daily – they didn’t want me to touch a single thing. I couldn’t even pack my clothes, everyone came to me. ‘help pack clothes.’
After moving in, Sandra’s new home was damaged by the severe storms and rains that hit New South Wales earlier this year.
Sandra and her family have now had to move into temporary accommodation. But despite all the setbacks, she still maintains an admirable optimism.
“Yes, it’s been a bit overwhelming, but with all the support from my friends and the people helping us, there wasn’t a second I thought ‘I’m going to die’.”
“I don’t think about it because I’m strong and I’m not going to give up on my kids. So that’s what gets me through the days.”
Sandra is currently preparing for radiation therapy and is approaching treatment with a solid mindset.
“You never imagine you’ll be the person in my position. You never imagine you’ll end up being the person in danger,” she says. “So when you realize you’re that person, it’s quite confronting.”
“But I’ve always been positive and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
If there’s one thing Sandra took away from her diagnosis, it’s to be an advocate for your own health and always investigate if you feel something is wrong.
Although she remains positive, it is frustrating that her symptoms have been ignored by medical professionals despite numerous attempts to report her symptoms.
“If you catch something like this early, it can change your life.”
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