SCUGOG: Terry Fox Run poster girl Tessa Smith’s tour of Ontario schools made a stop at R.H. Cornish Public School in Port Perry, on Friday, Sept. 16.
The 18 year-old resident of Omemee and two time cancer survivor visited the school with her mother Annie Smith, and gave an inspirational talk to students.
Ms. Smith has been presenting to schools for a number of years, but this year was asked by the Terry Fox Foundation if she would be the official “poster girl” of this year’s campaign.
At the age of three-and-a-half months, Ms. Smith was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare cancer affecting both of her eyes. She had to have her right eye removed because doctors feared the cancer would spread through her optic nerve to her brain. Doctors were able to save the left eye.
“My left eye had four tumours that were treated with more chemo and laser treatment. I went into remission for six months only to later develop three new tumours in that eye,” Ms. Smith said. “Luckily, those tumours were caught early enough, and were lasered.”
When she was five years old, she and her family moved from Calgary, Alberta to Peterborough to be closer to Sick Kids hospital. At the age of 13, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same type of bone cancer as Terry Fox.
“I was a triathlete, a competitive swimmer, a synchronized swimmer and I loved track, but all of this ended quickly, due to the increasing pain in my left knee,” she told the students.
Ms. Smith’s left leg was amputated directly below the hip. She had her left thigh removed and doctors brought her calf muscle and foot to her hip and rotated it 180 degrees, allowing her ankle to act as a knee joint.
“It took more than a year to learn how to walk again without any devices for assistance. Since then, it has been a series of ups and downs,” she said.
Ms. Smith then stressed to the students how lucky they are to have both legs.
“You wake up in the morning, go about your business and you are not likely to think twice of the physicality of what you are actually doing. But for me, putting on a leg is the first thing I do in the mornings, otherwise I really wouldn’t be going anywhere, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”
Despite everything she has gone through though, Ms. Smith has not let her circumstances prevent her from living her life to the fullest.
“So far, I’ve tried swimming, skating, water skiing, stand up paddle boarding, with some yoga, hiking, running, high ropes, rock climbing and dance,” she said.
This might be because of a mantra that can be seen displayed in her home, “never, never, never give up.”
As well as the athletics, Ms. Smith is also passionate about modelling, fashion design, photography, music and writing.
In April, Ms. Smith walked as a model in the Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) festival. She was also the official ambassador for the Fashion Heals show in Toronto.
As well, she is currently working on her first novel.
As of now, Ms. Smith is nearly four years in remission, which means she is declared cancer free. She finished her story with an inspirational message.
“Cancer may have taken my right eye and my left leg, which I say balances me out, but it definitely has not taken my spirit,” she said.
Since it first started, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised over $700 million for cancer research.