A pillar of strengthPublished 9:38am Friday, October 9, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
When it comes to breast cancer, Faye Smith is the definition of inspiration.
It would be completely understandable that any breast cancer survivor might speak of their experience with quiet reservation.
But Smith welcomes one into her home in Niles with an immediately warm spirit. She sits down at her kitchen table and recounts the days that followed her diagnosis of stage one breast cancer with the same combination of defiance, strength and faith that one can imagine got her through her ordeal in the first place.
It was December of 2008.
“I had a mammogram,” Smith said. “And it came back negative.” There are those times, she said, when one “just knows” that things are going to be okay.
“I knew I had cancer,” she said.
Doctors wanted Smith to take more tests. Her family urged her to consider that she was just fine and the tests would show just that.
But Smith said she was insistent. She knew what those tests would show. She had another mammogram followed by a biopsy which showed that she, indeed, had stage one breast cancer.
It was February of 2009.
“I had a few tears,” she said. “But I said I already knew it was cancer. I said, ‘I know it’s cancer. I’m not afraid of cancer.’”
Smith credits her fearlessness to her faith, saying, “I already had a talk with God about my cancer and I’ve already made my peace.
“That same day, that moment,” Smith said, she told doctors she wanted her breast removed.
It was a request that might have taken her doctors by surprise. Diagnosed at such an early stage, as explained Lakeland HealthCare’s breast health coordinator, Shelley Wilkinson, often patients can go the route of a lumpectomy rather than having the entire breast removed, followed by localized treatment of radiation.
But Smith said, “I said my mind is made up,” and she insisted on having the whole breast removed.
There were scores of tests, rounds of more tests and finally Smith was admitted for her surgery.
She recalls that day with laughter, jokes with the nurses and the doctors, one imagines with an easy smile on her face – which is seen throughout her telling of the story.
Preparations underway, the doctors asked Smith if she was ready for her surgery.
“I’ve been ready,” she remembered saying. “I’m waiting on you.”
Already “all prayed up,” doctors removed the breast where Smith’s cancer was found. She declined reconstructive surgery and instead uses a filler. Smith praises her doctors, who she said made her feel at ease and in whose hands she put all of her trust. And she praises Wilkinson for getting her questions answered and providing unending support. “That’s my girl,” she said.
If the story sounds like it rolls of the tongue fairly easily, when it comes to Smith, it does. She is no less afraid to talk about cancer as she was to go through it.
She said she endured chemotherapy with little trouble, and shortly after her surgery, Smith was back under the knife. Doctors removed ten of her lymph nodes and found no remaining signs of cancer.
“All this happened this year,” Smith said.
At 65 years old, Smith is a symbol of life after cancer and of cancer caught early.
“To this day,” she said. “I don’t regret having my breast removed, because everything happens for a reason. I’m very happy with myself. I have everything to be thankful for.
“Every time you go through something,” she continued. “I think it makes you stronger, because not everyone can go through what I went through.”
But there are those who face the same challenge. And to those diagnosed with breast cancer like she was, Smith said she tells them, “don’t fall apart. Pick yourself up and say, God, I am leaning on you and depending on you to help you through this. And trust your doctor.
“Find peace within yourself, you know because…you can live without a breast.”
And that’s exactly what Smith is doing now: Living.