A week before Christmas in 2010, Bambi Smyth was at a party when she met an ophthalmologist who, upon observing her bloodshot right eye, suggested she seek a referral to a specialist sooner rather than later. Bambi did, and on Christmas Day, at the mostly deserted Eye and Ear Hospital, a CT Scan would reveal a golf-ball sized tumour sitting behind her eye. What followed was a frightening circuit of eye specialists, neurosurgeons, radiologists and an operation that thoroughly spoiled her summer holiday plans! Left with physical and mental scars, Bambi endured months of treatment that, fortunately, set her on the path to recovery.
Two weeks prior to Christmas 2011, just as she was starting to regain her strength, a routine mammogram showed Bambi had a lump in her breast, which further tests diagnosed as cancer. Disbelief engulfed her thoughts but a staunch resolve to fight this disease, which prematurely claimed the life of her sister a decade earlier, prevailed.
Bambi's resilience, positive outlook, and her sense of humour coupled with the love and support of family and friends, helped her through the second round of treatment. Hers is a life-affirming story of living no matter what. This is a personal journey that puts life in perspective, and self-acceptance front and centre.
Bambi Smyth was born in Scotland and spent her first sixteen years being dragged around the world by her naval officer father. It was not until her mid-teens that she finally settled down in Melbourne, Australia, where she has since stayed put. Well, apart from regular trips around the world seeking out-of-the-way destinations where she would invariably get attacked by grumpy camels, or the odd rogue elephant. Fortunately Bambi survived such encounters, and just kept right on travelling, in-between long bouts as a freelance illustrator and children's book author. Oh, and between major health dramas too. www.bambismyth.com
Bad Hair Year
Author: Bambi Smyth
Question: What inspired you to write Bad Hair Year?
Bambi Smyth: When I was first diagnosed with a brain tumour, I found that writing down the events and how I was feeling about them was very helpful. By confronting my fears head on, I found it easier to cope with them. Also, being an author it seemed to me to be the logical thing to do. With the saga unfolding, I suggested to my partner that perhaps I should write a book about my experiences, but his response was 'Bambi, lots of people get brain tumours, get over it, it's hardly book-worthy'.
However, when I discovered I had breast cancer, just four months after my brain surgery, I decided that in fact I DID have a story to tell!
As well as writing Bad Hair Year for my own catharsis, I wanted to share my journey with others who might be going through similar ordeals, whether they be health issues or other life traumas. I explored a number of coping mechanism to help get me through, including diet, alternative medicine, visualisation, meditation, yoga, hypnotherapy, and perhaps the most powerful - humour! I was hopeful that I could reach people in need of a more positive outlook on their own situation
Question: Was it difficult reliving certain times of your life, when writing Bad Hair Year?
Bambi Smyth: I was writing as I was experiencing the treatments and the diagnoses etc, so it was all wrapped up together, and I simply got on with it. In fact, detailing the procedures etc in minute detail, was paradoxically a great distraction! However, what I found the hardest was reliving the period when my sister died of metastasized breast cancer twelve or so years earlier. Facing the possibility of meeting a similar fate not only filled me with fear as I knew exactly what to expect, but it also gave me nightmares of what she had gone through, and how anguished she must have been.
Question: What did you learn, about yourself, when writing Bad Hair Year?
Bambi Smyth: Wow. So much. I learned that I am far braver than I ever would have expected. I learned that I am a fighter. I learned that for too many years I had been working too hard and it was about time to stop and smell the roses. I learned that some of my priorities were all wrong, (money, status, parties), and that all that really mattered in life was family, friends, and good health. I learned that the body that I'd been ashamed of for most of my life (too skinny, too flat-chested, too tall etc) was in fact an extraordinary masterpiece of biology and something to be loved and nurtured. I learned how insignificant I was in the world, yet how important. I learned that life was a tenuous matter, and that I had to make the most of it before it was too late.
Most importantly, I learned how very very lucky I was, and to never take my life for granted again.
Bambi Smyth: That there's someone out there who understands (some of) what they are going through, and that they're not alone.
That even when - through ill health or other traumas - they think they have lost control over their lives, there are still plenty of ways that they can be proactive in order to keep SOME control - diet, exercise, alternative medicine, second opinions, positive attitude, etc
To look at the glass half full, not half empty.
That humour is an immensely powerful weapon against adversity and fear.
To realise that they don't have to be 'stuck' in a bad job, bad relationship, bad life, or even bad health, but that there are a great many things they can change in order to improve their lives. To ACCEPT THEMSELVES not as an imperfect being, but as someone who is perfectly imperfect
To learn how to live their lives day by day, minute by minute, and to appreciate all the wondrous things that come their way, and that they've always taken for granted, whether it be a ladybird walking across their hand, the feel of the sun on their face, or the smell of freshly cut grass.
To write down their Bucket List, and get on with it! (Top of the list for me was swimming with humpback whales in Tong - a life affirming experience second to none!)
Interview by Brooke Hunter