Dundee man Jim Smyth hopes to still be here at the age of 100 after living with cancer for the past 17 years.
Jim, 71, was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2004. After 11 years of observations and minor procedures he had major surgery to remove his bladder, prostate and other internal organs.
Though the 11-hour operation was a success the surgeon spotted an unrelated and undetected problem – prostate cancer.
Jim, father to Lynsey, 41, and Lorri, 34, was told the disease was at an advanced stage – in his bloodstream – so for the past six years he has had to take four tablets daily and have quarterly injections to keep it at bay.
He has had to endure side effects such as fatigue and sweating, and has also suffered allergic reactions to the disposable bag worn over his stoma to compensate for his lack of bladder.
But Jim has never been more active than at present and has immersed himself in his passions of camping, hill-walking, skiing, photography and painting.
“I am not going anywhere,” he says. “I plan to be here at 100.
“Whether I achieve it is another matter but I can live life to the full.”
This feature describes how Jim continues to live his life to the full almost a generation after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Exploring the world
Jim Smyth has always been active and healthy.
From the age of seven the Lochee lad was regularly a passenger on his mum May’s scooter.
The pair often travelled around Scotland and Europe, visiting as many as seven countries in one holiday.
“We would climb hills and did a lot of camping,” Jim says.
Aged 16, May gifted him her old Vespa scooter and he began exploring the world on his own two wheels until the end of the 1960s.
‘I noticed a little drop of blood’
Jim forged a career in architecture, spending his final 11 years of full-time work at Andrew Black Design on the Perth Road.
He also had a three-year spell in the mid 1980s running the former Tay Bridge Holt in Wormit.
He designed and built the pub – now The View Restaurant – then pulled pints and devised a food menu once it was open.
Outside of work Jim satisfied his travelling urges via his campervan and regularly visited the western isles, Harris being his favourite.
He was also an enthusiastic runner, completing 10 miles in 61 minutes as well as several half marathons and one marathon over the years.
It was after a visit to the now-closed DW Fitness Club in Gallagher Retail Park – where Jim worked out at least three times a week – that he discovered something was not quite right.
“I had been in the gym and done lots of sit-ups and heavy weights,” says Jim, who was 54 at the time.
“I came home, went to the toilet and at the end of my urine stream I noticed a little drop of blood.
“It was not enough to make it red – just a little pink.
“I’d been reading a lot about men’s health where the advice was that men should be like women and always get themselves checked out.”
‘You have cancer’
He went to Ninewells where an endoscopy was carried out.
“The doctor had a look at the screen and said ‘you have a tumour’,” Jim recalls.
“I said ‘what do you mean?’
“She said ‘you have cancer’.
“I still had the camera inside of me and we were watching the screen showing the inside of my body.”
“It was strange but I have always taken it in my stride,” he says.
“I have always been like ‘what do we do now?'”
Operation only ‘because I was so fit’
Over the next 11 years his condition was monitored in regular endoscopies at Stracathro Hospital.
Roughly once every two years, based on the test results, non-invasive remote procedures using cameras took place to remove bits of cancer on his bladder.
“It was like going in and getting a wart burnt out,” says Jim.
After worrying test results in 2015 an operation was undertaken to remove his bladder, prostate and other organs.
Prior to surgery Jim underwent chemotherapy, the only course since he was diagnosed 17 years ago.
“They told me that I was only going to have the operation because I was so fit,” he says.
Cure worse than disease
The 11-hour operation was a success and Jim was recently given the all-clear for bladder cancer.
But the discovery of advanced prostate cancer during the procedure meant Jim had to start from the beginning and with fewer organs.
“I take four pills [Enzalutamide] every day instead of chemotherapy,” he says.
“I also have an injection every three months to keep my PSA levels low.
“The cure has been worse than the disease and there have been some strange side effects.
“One is that my hair has been growing back in my natural black, having been quite bald and grey.
“I have sweaty spells and I do feel sleepy but I usually feel fully revived after a catnap.”
‘I made a pledge to do something creative every day’
Cancer has caused Jim to double down on his hobbies and interests.
“When I retired five years ago I made a pledge to do something creative every day – even if it is just making my bed – and to a certain extent I have achieved this,” he says.
With his trusty Olympus Pen camera he has become more immersed in wildlife and landscape photography, leaving his Facebook page open so all can view his ‘Oot ma Windae‘ series of panoramas from his Hazel Drive home.
“The subtext of the exhibition is living with cancer,” Jim says. “It shows how you can observe the world and make a positive slant on everything you see.”
When he is not taking or editing photos he might be painting or helping campervan support group Campra.
He might also be working with his neighbours in his role as the head of Hazel Estates residents group, or spending down-time at Ninewells Community Garden where he also happens to be the unofficial photographer.
Jim has spent entire winters skiing at Glenshee, hooking up his campervan to the power at the ski centre on weekdays before returning the following week for more fun on the slopes without the crowds.
His contributions to the Love Scottish Islands Facebook page are also informed by his many trips to the far north and west.
‘I’d better get my act together here’
Jim’s diary is so packed that he barely has a minute for negative thoughts.
“I always had an active life but when you have cancer you become a glutton for experiences and try to absorb this life and this world,” he says. “That’s what I do with my travelling and photography.
“You’re aware that your time is limited, not in a macabre way but just through being realistic, so you say ‘I’d better get my act together here’.
“I am known to be very positive in my life. No one wants someone in their life who sits and moans all the time.
“I was quite conscious that I might not be around very long but as it happens I have been around longer than I anticipated.
“I have always felt healthy – never ill so that leads me to living a more positive life.
“I’m very very lucky in how I am managing to manage my cancer so every day is a blessing to me.
“Every day when I wake up I try to create something artistic and something to create a memory for my children who will remember me as someone who did something very positive.”
‘I urge people not to hide away if they see something untoward’
Jim is easygoing and insists that “all I am doing is living my life” but on one particular topic he is very clear.
“I am reacting to a situation I am in to the best of my ability,” he says.
“I don’t shout about it, except that every three to four months I will remind people to do their checks.
“I urge people not to hide away if they see something untoward.
“If I can save one person’s life by telling them that then it will be worth it.
“I am not going to war with anybody except my own body. I talk to my body and listen to it.
“I always think of my body having warriors who can get their act together and snuff out the threat.”
‘I can’t thank him enough’
Dundee hairdresser Irving Miskell-Reid speaks of his close pal Jim in glowing terms.
They have been friends since the late 1960s when when they met at Constitution Road pub Breadalbane Arms, more commonly known as The Bothy.
“That was where everybody met,” says Irving. “Jim used to look after me. He got me out of a lot of scrapes.”
Irving has entrusted Jim’s architectural services for each of his salons, starting with Jack and Irving in 1980. He currently has two Freedom Hairdressing salons, at Dock Street and Fort Street in Broughty Ferry.
“Jim found all of my shops and designed them for me,” Irving says.
“I can’t thank him enough because he has made a big difference to how I run my business.
“Three times I was refused planning permission but he worked out what was required to get the necessary consent.
“When the shops were being opened he organised all workmen and made sure everything was orchestrated.
“The amazing thing was he did all this free of charge.”
‘Jim has been such an inspiration’
“Jim has been such an inspiration,” says Irving. “He has been a very strong influence and guide in my business and personal life.
“He has never ever given up or let his diagnosis get him down.
“He has always been open with it to us, which is his way of coping with it.
“If it was me I would be hiding it and not letting anyone know I was ill.”