Samantha Edwards – Shining through adversity
Samantha Edwards, a successful career woman and mother, shares her unexpected journey with colon cancer and how a basket of complementary therapies has aided her recovery.
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Samantha Edwards (42) lives in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal with her husband and two daughters, aged three and two.
Sam’s cancer journey began in October 2022 not long after the birth of her second daughter. With two children born within a span of 15 months, her symptoms were easily dismissed with the demands of being a busy, working mother of two under two.
A sizable tumour was found but the doctors were confident it would be benign. A biopsy was performed and Sam was sent for an abdominal CT scan. “The scan came back clear, however, the biopsy showed cancer.
I was advised that I’d need to have a colon resection to remove the 9cm tumour. Again, the doctors felt confident that the cancer was contained as I had no other signs of spread. I was informed that I may need a temporary colostomy but due to the location of the tumour, it was unlikely.”
A month later, Sam underwent a laparoscopic sigmoid colectomy to remove the tumour and 11cm of her colon; unfortunately the surgeon discovered spread to her lymph nodes, resulting in a Stage 3B colon cancer diagnosis. This meant that she would need to undergo six months of adjunctive chemotherapy but thankfully no colostomy was needed.
Sam was led to seek a second opinion; she had accepted that chemotherapy was warranted but didn’t get a good feel when the oncologist dismissed her long list of questions of which complementary therapies would help with chemotherapy.
“I believe that the best approach is a combination of the two. I realised that chemotherapy gave me the strongest chance of survival with a Stage 3 diagnosis, but I also wanted to support my body with complementary therapies,” Sam explains.
The second oncologist answered Sam’s (and her husband’s questions) for over an hour. “Chemotherapy was still the main treatment but he was supportive of all the complementary therapies that I wanted to include. Though, there were some that he didn’t necessarily agree would help but ultimately, he was supportive of my values and holistic approach.”
Sam adds, “His empathetic and informative approach became a cornerstone in my treatment journey. The significance of second opinions lies in empowering patients to actively engage in their healthcare journey.”
Sam began chemotherapy and complementary therapies became integral to her holistic approach to healing. From acupuncture and yoga to meditation and physiotherapy, each played a role in managing side effects and enhancing her overall well-being.
“Acupuncture is reported to help with several chemotherapy side effects.
I found it to help with headaches and overall well-being as it’s a very calming treatment. Yoga was hugely beneficial to my mental state and allowed me to keep moving when I couldn’t handle vigorous exercise. I stuck to twice weekly including days that fell directly after chemotherapy sessions. Physiotherapy helped to keep my bowel function more regular by use of manual massage to support my digestive system; I was surprised at how helpful this was.”
Sam’s oncologist encouraged her to seek psychological support to come to terms with her diagnosis. “Ironically, we didn’t talk too much about the cancer itself, but my sessions helped me to uncover areas of my life that needed focus emotionally. I have come to believe that emotional factors can lead to physical disease and therefore getting on top of my emotional awareness, was very helpful,” Sam explains.
Understanding the impact of surgery and chemotherapy on the gut, Sam reduced her intake of inflammatory foods. She cut out gluten, dairy, and sugar and ate only fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods.
Family and finances
Supported by her incredible family and network, Sam navigated the challenges of being a wife and mother to two young girls with a sense of ease. Her husband, Scott, attended every chemotherapy session with her, while her mother, Monica, flew in regularly from Port Elizabeth to offer support, and her brother, Justin, who lives in Taiwan, made a special trip to SA to help her through the difficult time.
One of the greatest forms of support was financial freedom. “I was privileged to have both dread disease cover and income protector insurance which allowed me to take a much-needed one-year sabbatical from my high-pressure advertising job. I’m a firm believer in the connection between stress and disease, and so I was blessed to be able to focus on my own healing whilst avoiding the pressures of work”.
Seeing hope in the uncertain horizon
“November 2023 marked my one-year anniversary of diagnosis and it came with unexpected emotions as I returned to work in a new role. It not only symbolised overcoming cancer but also marked a new chapter of uncertainties and challenges, and the importance of coming to terms with my new reality and living life to the fullest.”
Motivated by her own need for connection and information during her diagnosis, Sam launched cancerenlightened.com to share her journey, coping mechanisms, and insights into cancer treatment.
“Before my diagnosis, I didn’t know that there were different types of chemo. I didn’t know that I would be fortunate enough not to lose a hair on my head as not all chemo causes hair loss, and I had no idea just how manageable treatment would be. Whilst I don’t want to downplay the difficulties faced, it was a lot easier than what I would have imagined it.”
So, fuelled by the desire to breakdown the stigma surrounding cancer, her website aims to provide a resource for those facing a similar path and offer the support she found invaluable from fellow colon cancer survivors.
In stepping into a new year post-diagnosis, Sam continues to shine, not just for herself but for those who find solace and inspiration in her story.
“Overcoming cancer marked the profound realisation of life’s value, inspiring a new chapter filled with hope and gratitude. Even though I face regular follow-ups during the high-risk post-remission phase, I choose to approach it with courage, turning my fear into a beacon of strength, embodying the very essence of shining through adversity.”
Photos by Wilma Towell Photography | wilmatowellphotography.com
MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams
Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope.
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