Andrew Smith

Patient Contributed Story

Andrew SmithThe day that changed my life took place on December 29, 2011. I was admitted to Markham-Stouffville Hospital for what presented as a kidney stone. Eight days later, I was released from the hospital – 30 pounds lighter, missing my right kidney, stapled up like Frankenstein and in a state of shock. I think the shock was mostly from the catheter removal!

It was a whirlwind of events. One day, I was fine and playing with the kids and the next day, I was lying in the hospital in major pain with 16 staples holding together a 12-inch hole in my side.

I kidded my wife on one particular visit, saying that I had an epidural catheter in my back and was in the hospital longer than she was when she birthed our two children. She still won’t let me live that one down.

The visits from my friends and family inspired me a lot, and helped me escape from my new reality.

The day I was released from Markham-Stouffville Hospital, my doctor told me that my pathology would be back in seven days, and I should come and see him for a follow-up visit. Waiting for pathology is not easy. I would lie awake for hours and hours and contemplate the future and what was next for me and my family. When the day finally came, the doctor told me he had good news and bad news for me. The good news was that I was cancer-free. That was the best news ever! The bad news was that I was at high risk for recurrence in the next five years.

I never heard another word that man said to me until my wife nudged me. The next thing he told me was that there was a clinical trial specifically designed for kidney cancer at The Princess Margaret. Heck, I knew where The Princess Margaret was – that was where I was going to win my mansion or my first Ferrari from!

The first time I went to The Princess Margaret was an evening appointment. My wife and I went. It was like a ghost town in there. I thought, “These people really are conquering cancer – there’s nobody here!” The place was amazing. The staff was amazing. Everybody was smiling. Everybody was very welcoming.

We were introduced to the clinical trial coordinator, Ajla, Dr. Richards, the fellow, and then to my doctor, Dr. Jennifer Knox. They explained the clinical trial in great detail, what was expected of me and what they were hoping to achieve. They explained the screening process and its benefits to me: catching a recurrence early, how to catch a recurrence and why it was beneficial. It was obvious to me that I had to do my part.

I agreed to join. If I could help to save one person, it was worth it – maybe it’d be my children or a friend. I left there knowing I was being treated at the best cancer centre in the world and it was going to be okay.

My second visit was vastly different from my first. This was the start of the screening process and I went during business hours. I was moments away from having to leave when it occurred to me that every person there was there because of cancer, and I was scared. I didn’t know how to act and I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Then, a familiar face appeared. It was Ajla, the clinical trial coordinator. She asked if I was okay. I lied to her and said yes. Then she took me to the examination room where she handed me a questionnaire the size of a dictionary. After the initial screening process was complete, I started the clinical trial.

Every visit since then has been great. I remind myself that I’m there to help find a cure.

On one particular visit, I sat beside an elderly gentleman in the prostate cancer area. He looked at me and, in a gruff voice, asked, “What are you doing here, you young punk?” I looked at him and said, “Sir, cancer has no bias in age.” He smiled and wished me well and I did the same for him.

I’ve been going to The Princess Margaret for six months and my last visit was the worst yet. Not only was it my first check-up, but I saw a couple there. They were happy, smiling, chit-chatting and holding hands. They were called and down the hall they went. They came back 15 minutes later and their mood had really changed. I knew right away what the news was that they received. I looked at him first and then I looked at her. It was all they could do to hold back the tears, and at that moment, I had to do the same for these strangers. I had to look away just to hold myself together. And then that smiling face appeared again and asked me if I was okay, and I had to lie to Ajla again. She called me and told me to come down to the room where the check-up would be. My first thought was, “Maybe I’m heading down the hallway to the exact same news that the couple just got.”

My experience at The Princess Margaret has been a rollercoaster of emotions to say the least, but I do know I’m in good hands and that it’s the best place to be.

Cancer has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I used to think that everyone who had cancer died from it, but not anymore. In fact, I never used to think about cancer and now I never stop thinking about it. I walk down the street or sit on the train and wonder how many have it and don’t know it, and how many people have it and do know it.

I’m convinced that one day, the team of people from The Princess Margaret is going to announce that they have found the cure for cancer.

Andrew Smith was the featured speaker at the 2012 Road Hockey To Conquer Cancer event. Married to Elayne, the couple has two young children.

Revised October 2013