A 29-year-old gym enthusiast, Becca Smith was told she had two weeks left to live, following months of back pain and a cough.
Smith, who initially thought her symptoms were due to a slipped disc, was left utterly shocked and horrified when she fell ill and was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
The bikini contest champion who had no idea what was going on in her body was setting up her workout studio at the end of 2019 when she started to fall ill. In January 2020, she started experiencing severe pain and migraines. She assumed she had injured her back while doing yoga and strength training and then stopped.
She went ahead to see several physiotherapists, chiropractors and private health doctors – but every time hit a blank.
She was hospitalized after losing her vision for the second time and thought a slipped disc was to blame.
Having been crowned Cumbrian Classic Bikini Champion in 2015 and later competing in the British finals, she didn’t even think cancer could be possible.
Becca was kept in hospital for five days while doctors ran tests, MRI scans, CT scans and performed a biopsy on her back in March 2020.
She was hooked to an oxygen machine, constantly had ice packs strapped to her head and was unable to walk.
Becca said: “I remember two doctors came up to me. They closed the curtains, my stomach dropped. I just knew something wasn’t right.”
Becca was asked if she wanted her parents present, but she said “no” because she never dreamed the diagnosis would be so shocking.
The doctors told Becca, a non-smoker, she had stage four lung cancer.
They said there was nothing they could do – it had spread from her lungs to her spine, brain and skull.
Then, she was given just two weeks to live.
“I vividly remember ringing my mum and screaming ‘Get to the hospital’ and I was screaming ‘It’s cancer’.
“My dad dropped to the floor, my mum was screaming, I was screaming.
“I remember saying to my mum: ‘Please don’t let me die’.”
Becca wrote on Instagram, where she is documenting her journey, that she stayed in a private room with family by her bedside for several days.
She was then sent home with palliative (end of life) care and, despite lockdown starting, she said “friends and family traveled to be by my bedside to say their goodbyes”.
Becca’s parents brought her home so she could spend time there with her family.
Despite the two-week projection, Becca’s family refused to accept it was the end.
Becca’s sister Steph, 31, invested in herbal remedies in a bid to boost her health as much as possible, including cannabis oils and healing juices.
A week into Becca’s time at home, a hospital nurse rang to say they had found Becca had ALK lung cancer.
It occurs when the ALK gene breaks and sticks to another gene. This rearrangement causes cells to grow abnormally and leads to tumours.
ALK makes up just five percent of all lung cancer cases. Unlike typical lung cancer, the majority of ALK patients aren’t smokers and half are under 50 years of age.
While incurable, ALK is treatable with tablet-targeted therapy that stops cancer from growing.
Becca takes a drug called Alectinib that keeps her “stable” – prolonging her life.
The cancer has left her brain and skull but a small amount sits dormant on her left lung and spine, which the tablets stopped from growing.
Becca attends hospital for monthly scans. It is not known exactly what her prognosis is right now.
However, she has returned to work, the gym, and says she “feels the healthiest mentally and physically”.
“I can’t live my life in fear,” Becca said.
“I just feel like this new path, rather than helping people in fitness, I’m hoping to use my diagnosis to help people.
“I look at everything differently now. I don’t worry or stress about the things that I used to.
“My world was set on building businesses and making money, but now it’s just to live a long and healthy, happy life.
“I remember lying in bed thinking: ‘Oh God, if only I’d done this, or saw this bit of the world’.
“Now, I feel like I can do anything I want to do.”
What are the symptoms of ALK lung cancer?
Lung cancer may not show symptoms until you’ve had it long enough for it to spread to other parts of your body, says ALK Positive.
It is harder to treat as it progresses, so do not delay checking in with a doctor.
If you suspect that you have any symptoms of lung cancer, like those below, see your doctor immediately:
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- A weak or tired feeling
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Weight loss without trying or loss of appetite
Becca has been supported on her lung cancer journey by The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and it emphasizes that no matter how young or healthy anyone is, changes in their body should be addressed as early as possible.
“How many of us take notice of seemingly small things, such as a cough that doesn’t go away, being a little more tired than usual, or in Becca’s case back pain?” said CEO Paula Chadwick.
“Yet these may be early signs of something much more significant happening within us.
“We urge everyone to take a moment to think about their health – have there been any subtle changes?
“If so, don’t hesitate, go and see your doctor and get it checked out.