Challenges That Change Us

36 {Erica Smith} When your mum beats the cancer odds

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Episode notes

Trigger warning: Anxiety, panic attacks, cancer

At this point we all know that the events in our formative childhood years can have long reaching effects, often influencing us decades later.

So what happens when your Mum goes through life threatening cancer when you are just going through your teenage years?

That’s exactly what happened to Erica Smith.

Erica is an Associate Professor in Chemistry at the University of New England (UNE), Armidale. With a long history and decorated career Erica is currently the Chair of the University Curriculum Committee and Chair of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Chemical Education Division and has so many more achievements.

But she was just 13 when her mum was diagnosed with CML (chronic myeloid leukemia) in 1984. She underwent intense radio and chemotherapy, and was eventually offered a bone marrow transplant as her only option to survive.

Erica lived through this, but it wasn’t until she was much older that she realised just how much of an impact this challenging time had had on her.

In today’s episode Erica shares:


-      How she keeps things real in her classroom and helps her students accept failure

-      The harrowing ordeal of watching her mum battle cancer when she was just 13

-      Just how close she came to losing her mum

-      The moment she realised as an adult that she had developed anxiety and panic attacks

-      The many tips and tricks she has for navigating her anxiety and panic attacks

Key Quotes

“I’d never seen anyone in so much pain and agony.”

“It’s about sitting and thinking what am I doing in my life and why am I doing it and why am I reacting this way?”

“A positive attitude won’t save you, but a negative attitude will kill you.”

“Accepting that it is hard, it’s not just you.”

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