Bambi Smyth was loving life, running a highly successful business, and planning travel and adventure with her fiancé Greg, when she was hit with the devastating news that she had a massive brain tumour behind her eye.
While obviously shellshocked, Bambi tackles the crisis head on, neither seeking sympathy nor avoiding the issue – though she is for some time in denial. When the seriousness of her diagnosis finally dawns on her, what makes her situation more difficult is the disagreement among her health professionals over what the best treatment plan should be.
Should she have major brain surgery – with all the associated risks? Or should she just have radiation, but then risk not having the tumour totally removed? And either way, will it just grow back anyway?
Her own GP has told her she could end up as ‘a vegetable’ (appalled at this lack of sensitivity, she quickly drops him). When she asks her capable surgeon what the risks are, he doesn’t hesitate to be frank:
‘Oh the usual,’ Andrew replies brightly, ‘anything from infection, seizure, facial palsy and stroke, right through to a remote risk of catastrophic neurological damage. Oh, and death, of course.”
So when it’s time for surgery, she wonders if she’ll make it to the other side intact. But Bambi, a successful businesswoman and artist in her fifth decade, faces it with bravery and acknowledges all that she does have – access to the best healthcare and loving friends and family who rally around her.
But then, as if that wasn’t all dramatic enough, just as she is recovering from major surgery, almost one year later, again just before Christmas, she discovers she has breast cancer.
Bad Hair Year is a diarised version of her life during this time. Bambi takes us through each stage of her journey with humour and total candour. She’s honest about the crippling fear she sometimes feels and outlines her struggles to be brave like other members of her family – especially her sister Bindi who died from breast cancer at 41, leaving three young children behind. She tries to channel that bravery with her own special mantra – Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’ – but she admits it doesn’t always work:
“I’m not feeling quite as brave today,” she tell us. “Being brave requires more than just self-belief and fortitude. Or a six-word mantra coined by a ‘70s pop singer. It also requires a certain level of commitment’
So that’s what Bambi does – she commits to being better with the many ways she tackles her illness. She takes heed of Einstein’s words: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” She faces all that is thrown at her by trying everything. She is open to both conventional and non-conventional medicine, so in addition to trusting her surgeon and opting for surgery for her brain tumour, she experiments with more alternative healing, such as meditation and hypnotherapy. But mostly she tries to enjoy life to the full as when she fulfils a dream by jetting off to Tonga to swim with the whales before her surgery.
Bad Hair Year is a book for anyone who’s ever been affected by illness or trauma – it’s inspiring, heartwarming and funny.
Published February 2016 by Echo Publishing