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Facing cancer head on
PERU- In 2002, when Amy (Gammon) Smith was only four months pregnant with her son Gage, she learned she had thyroid cancer. From that point on, she has taught her children that they need to hold their heads high and be courageous in whatever life deals them.
“I was at work the day I got the phone call from my doctor,” noted Amy. “I remember dropping the phone and feeling complete and utter shock. Bad thoughts just go through your mind when you hear the word cancer.”
She immediately called the home of her parents and spoke with her mother. “'We'll get through this,'” Amy remembered her mom telling her. “My family was super supportive from the very beginning and they still are.”
Amy grew up on a small farm with her father, David, mother, Brenda and sister, Julie. She was active in 4-H and was seen throughout the fair circuit each fall. She wanted nothing more than to grow up, have a family and raise them to be strong individuals like she and her sister had been raised.
Since Amy was four-months pregnant, surgery or any cancer treatment was risky. She remembers her doctor advising her to abort her unborn son.
“That's not an option I was willing to consider,” shared Amy. “My doctor never really gave us any hope for the pregnancy. As for me, he told us that there were three things we needed to know about thyroid cancer; one, the cancer would never spread, two, it was a slow-growing cancer and three, it should never cause me any problems and I wouldn't die from it.”
After hearing the advice of her doctor, Amy moved forward and had an initial surgery to remove part of her thyroid, when doctors removed most of the cancer. Due to her pregnancy, they couldn't remove all of the thyroid.
“It was a scary time,” remembered Amy. “I had Amber at home and she was only four at the time. When Gage was born in July, my doctors decided to remove the rest of the thyroid and hoped to get all the cancer. That was in August.”
Amy waited another six months for her body to heal before doctors performed radiation for the first time since her diagnosis.
As Amber, now 12, sat nearby, her eyes filled with tears, she noted, “I just remember being lonely and scared without my mom.”
With a four-year old at home, Amy underwent radiation and had to seclude herself from anyone other than her father.
“They told me that the radiation would seep through my pores and endanger the people around me, so I couldn't be around my kids for 7 days after the radiation.”
During this time, Amy sat alone in a camper set up on her family's property watching television, reading books and watching movies. Her clothes, dishes or anything else she had contact with had to be washed twice for the safety of her family.
“We took every precaution we had to,” noted Amy. “Then, I really couldn't take care of myself being so sick from the radiation. I would end up dehydrated and in the hospital. It was really hard.”
A brighter day in Amy's life came when she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Anthony, now five, in 2006.
She was declared cancer-free in 2009. She went on to have three, six and nine month screenings to be sure the cancer was staying in remission.
“It was a tough time,” remembered Amy. “I just didn't feel right, but they said everything was fine.”
In March of 2010, Amy had a body scan done and it showed that the cancer had returned and following so many radiation treatments, there was considerable damage to her internal organs. The doctors decided to perform a hot chemotherapy bath on her.
In August of last year, following the therapy, she had to have a foot of her colon removed, her gall bladder, appendix, along with part of her stomach lining and a complete hysterectomy.
Over the past eight months, Amy continues to struggle with the after-affects of the radiation treatments and has cancer in her throat.
“There is a high risk of complication if I decide to let them operate,” noted Amy, putting a big hug on her children. “But, we survived it once, we'll do it again.”
Amy is currently waiting for the results of a CT scan of her abdomen to be sure everything has healed properly and that the doctors haven't missed anything.
When asked how she looks back on the last ten years, Amy noted, “I don't think I have any regrets for what has or hasn't happened. I hope it gives my kids value and saves them from having to go through the same thing.”
As for her children; Amber, 12, stated, “I wish I could make the cancer go away. But, like my mom says, 'try not to worry about it and be happy with where we are today.'”
Gage, 8, and Anthony, 5, “don't really understand fully what is going on,” noted Amy. They are very good boys and do really well in school. All of my kids are absolutely perfect.”
As for Amy's outlook on her future, “I still have a road to go, but we'll get through it. We just have to do what they tell us to do and hold our heads high. It's been a long haul and only time will tell if the bumps are going to get any smoother down my road.”
Amy resides on her family farm in Peru with partial custody of her children, where they all work together to help the farm run smoothly with her dad, David, her mother, Brenda, and her sister, Julie, along with her husband and two children.