A remarkable tale of recovery from a rare form of cancer

Storrington author Susan Overton-Smith tells of her recovery from a rare form of cancer in her new book Tell Your Story, published through Amazon at Kindle £2.99, paperback £7.99.

Sue Overton-Smith
Sue Overton-Smith

Susan said: “Originally, I thought to write and tell people of what has happened to me, especially my pupils and their parents since I had suddenly disappeared from their everyday lives.

“Another teacher had been retiring at the end of the summer term and my form had asked ‘You won’t be leaving, will you?’ To which I replied, ‘Oh no, you don’t have to worry about that.’ Little did I know what lay ahead.

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“My life changed dramatically in the summer of 1999. A visit to the doctor set in motion a chain of events over which I no longer had control. A rare type of cancer was found.

“My consultant, a surgeon of many years’ experience, said that if one were to look through all the medical journals and textbooks, he was almost certain that my case was unique.

“This is the story of my journey into the unknown in which I share my innermost thoughts and feelings. It covers my triumphs and setbacks including the trauma of losing my voice, a disaster for a teacher, my subsequent attempts to speak again after months of silence and my ongoing in-ability to swallow. The bitter irony is that when the battle is thought to have been won a cruel shock lies in store. Completely without warning I am staring death in the face, not once but twice. I could not have survived without a dedicated medical team, my faith and a sense of humour.

“The book covers the main phases of hospital treatment and the unfolding of events during my illness between July 1999 and early 2000.

“I did regain my voice after about six months. Partly because of having a tracheostomy and partly because of the drying-out effects of radiotherapy I was unable to speak during this time, and then it was softer and less distinct than before, so not everybody understands me all the time, and therefore I was not able to return to teaching. I had taught at the former Arundale school in Pulborough for 13 years when I had to make the difficult decision to retire. I have still kept in touch with former members of staff, parents and pupils as we were one big family.

“I feel the book will appeal to a variety of people because when I have talked about my experience to individuals or to small groups, it has always evoked a positive response.

“When I told my first surgeon from St Richard’s and my speech therapist some years ago that I was writing a book, they were most enthusiastic and told me that medical staff were very keen to read books written from the patient’s perspective so that they would have a better understanding. I believe it may also give hope to cancer sufferers and others diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.

“I believe it will also appeal to anyone who believes in or is searching for God as my story includes the testimony of the remarkable way He saved me, when there was no other way. I had a miracle for which I shall always be grateful.

“In hospital I had grown spiritually by reading three of Colin Urquhart’s books and it was in God’s Plan for Your Healing that he had pointed me to the words in the Bible which I needed at that critical time. Also, when I was in hospital, having no voice for a period of several months, my only form of communication was to write everything down for others to read.

“This prompted people to remark that I ought to write a book. I couldn’t contemplate it at first but during the first year after my illness a friend invited me to join her for a creative writing class. I wasn’t interested in doing the exercises the others were doing so I asked if the tutor would mind if I began to write a book.

“It was very difficult to speak at that stage so someone had to read my work out for me. I was writing a chapter a fortnight. I remember writing it longhand from 7am to 11pm, eager to get it down on paper.

“At one point I was finding the memories so traumatic that I decided to have a break and come back to it, but the break went from three days to three weeks to three years and so on. Once I had stopped, I found it difficult to start again. I wished I had never taken a break. I had written the parts I could remember most vividly in 2001. My task later was to fill in the rest of it, which proved to be more complicated than I had anticipated.

“When the first lockdown came I knew it was an opportunity to complete the book so that my story would reach people, and it is so rewarding to see it in print!”