Published on 15 June 2018
Marinda Van Zyl
Words & photos:
Stage Four Cancer: Zoe's Inspirational Story
Consumed by fitness and healthy living, Zoe Strachan was blown away when she was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer in 2014. She was overcome by guilt because her last PAP smear had been when her son was born. He was 14 at the time she was diagnosed. Her whole world crumbled down. She couldn’t stop thinking about her family and how she would share the news with them. At the time she had been married for 15 years, and they were planning a ceremony to renew their vows. She was faced with telling her husband that she had to have a laser treatment operation, and that there would be no sex for a while. “They operated quickly, so I didn’t really have a chance to process what was happening. The doctor gave me the all clear, and I carried on with life”, recalls Zoe.
Knowing that she was supposed to go for check-ups every six months after the operation, she desperately wanted to forget that she’d ever had cancer and kept putting off the routine doctor’s visits. She started experiencing pain and abnormal bleeding early 2017.
Her husband’s concern grew and he eventually insisted that she go to the doctor. Zoe was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer in May 2017 and doctors recommended that she have a hysterectomy. “I will never forget the look on my son’s face. Although he didn’t show it, I could see this child thinks, my God, my mother is going to die,” she says. Though her husband kept a brave face and never told her, she heard from her friends how devastated he was. Death kept mocking her, and the hysterectomy was a huge obstacle for her to overcome. She was in a lot of pain and doing even simple tasks like breathing and eating was difficult. Feeling totally powerless, her family had to help her to get out of bed and to walk. Recovering at home, she spent hours crying while her husband was at work. The turmoil was almost too much to bear.
“I knew I should go back to the doctor, but I was afraid. Maybe I was just too scared to go because I knew there was something wrong with me and I was trying to avoid it.”
“I had to teach myself to do all these things again, I felt like a three-year-old,” says Zoe.
Six weeks later, at her post-operative doctor’s appointment, she was given devastating news. Instead of being all clear, the cancer had spread into her vagina. “I thought, why me? Why is this happening to me of all people? My whole life was turned upside down”. The intense shock radiated throughout her life, affecting her mentally, physically and emotionally.
Zoe remembers an evening during that time when they grappled with the news, trying to make sense of it. Hope eluded her, and, after reviewing her life policies, she asked her husband to take care of the children. He would have none of that and reminded her that her family needed her, that he needed her.
Her doctor suggested a third operation and warned that she may need chemotherapy and radiation. Not willing to put her family through the trauma of seeing her undergo chemotherapy and radiation, she prayed and asked God for help. Following the operation, she was in ICU for three days. Across the aisle lay a woman in her 70’s. She reminded Zoe how much life she still had to live and that there was still a lot to look forward to. This was a turning point for her. Even though she was weak, she somehow managed to summon the will to survive.
She was given wonderful news at her third post-operative doctor’s meeting. The cancer was completely gone, and there would be no need for chemotherapy or radiation. Her relief was palpable. Looking back, Zoe says she is going to look after herself in future. She would like to remind women that if their cancer is treated early, they can be survivors too. “We as women have to look after ourselves. When the signs are there, the abdominal pain, the discharge; don’t just ignore it, don’t just wait like I did” says Zoe.