Cancer Survivor Lily was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma in May 2015 and had surgeryto remove her left voice box as part of her treatment. The realisation that she could lose her voice and never speak again was a wake-up call for Lily, who now uses her voice more than ever before to share her experiences and help others in a similar situation.
Those dreaded words
For a doctor to call me at such a late hour on a Friday afternoon was not a good omen. When he asked whether I was with anyone, I was even more concerned, but managed to say the words, “I am with my sisters”. I will never forget his response, “The biopsy result came back – you have cancer.”
As soon as I heard the word “cancer” my whole body went numb. I didn’t hear much of what he said after that but luckily, my sisters had heard the whole thing. It’s actually very rare that all of us 4 sisters are together – with one in Darwin and one in London – especially at such a crucial moment.
After the initial shock I somewhat managed to regain some composure and all I could think of asking was, “Am I going to die? How long have I got? Tell me straight – what should I do?”
I don’t know where I found the courage to even ask those questions, but it just came out.
Finding my voice again
Before my operation I was told that I could lose my voice altogether. I remember thinking: “This can’t be happening – no voice at all?”.
I was so petrified that I decided there and then that I would simply not show up on the day. I kept that thought a secret for a month or so until, for some strange reason, I admitted to the surgeon a week before surgery that I was planning on not showing up!
He looked at me with such shock and said, “Lily, we are trying to save your life here. Everything is booked and my team is ready to go. I promise you that I will do my utmost best to take care of you.”
The whole operation took more than 8 hours and I stayed in Intensive Care Unit for 2 months to recover. I couldn’t speak, eat or drink and had to breathe through a tracheostomy. My neck and face were swollen, and I had tubes coming out of my nose and neck and left arm where the free flap was taken. It was not a pretty sight. I had to write on a small whiteboard to communicate with doctors, medical staff and family.
A new lease of life
Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had been suffering from depression for many years, I was withdrawn and preferred to keep to myself. In those two months in intensive care, lying in my hospital bed, I had a lot of time to reassess my life. I realised that there’s more I needed to do with my life. I made a promise to myself that, if I got out of hospital alive and with my voice back, I was going to make sure that I start using it to help and empower others.
I’m confident I am now doing just that – I’ve trained as a Positive Workplace Culture Consultant, hold my own workshops and am a Community Ambassador for Cancer Council which I do to help make people with cancer aware of all the support on offer, so they don’t have to face their cancer journey isolated and alone. It’s amazing what a life changing experience like cancer does to you.
If there was anything positive to come out of my cancer journey, it would be my fresh outlook on life and my newfound purpose. I’m doing what I can to make the most of my time here and hopefully help and empower others – by using my voice!
Lily’s advice for life
If I could inspire just one person, I would tell them to:
Be vigilant about your health – go get that check-up you keep putting off
Drink in moderation
Be sun smart
Be involved with your community
Do things that give you joy, laughter, and happiness – travel more, learn new skills, see more movies
Come volunteer with Cancer Council NSW, your local sporting club, school, hospital – live with passion for the things that matter and make your time here count.
For me, it’s been more than 7 years cancer free now and, each year, I celebrate my anniversary. I feel it is important to celebrate these milestones, to celebrate life and the people around you, and to acknowledge, remember and honour loved ones we have lost to cancer. I’ve certainly come to realise the meaning of the phrase “life is too short”.
Here for life. Protecting life’s moments, for life.
If you need to talk about cancer, call Cancer Council on 13 11 20.