Cancer survivor Smith ready for ‘emotional’ 2015 Relay

Published 9:55 am Friday, April 24, 2015

Jeannie Smith’s daughters, Emilee (left) and Lexi, donated some of their own hair to help provide a wig for her to use during her chemotherapy treatments.

Jeannie Smith’s daughters, Emilee (left) and Lexi, donated some of their own hair to help provide a wig for her to use during her chemotherapy treatments.

For Jeannie Smith, battling—and surviving—cancer in some form has taken up the better part of the last 15 years of her life.

In that time frame, she has lost her parents, an uncle and even battled the illness herself, but has remained committed to Relay For Life.

“I started Relay after the death of my mother in 2001,” Smith said. “She died of breast cancer, and I got involved within my church, Pleasant Grove Baptist No. 2, forming a team. We have been relaying ever since.”

While using Relay For Life as a means of helping those with cancer while honoring her mother, Smith said she began to get more involved as time went on.

“(After) doing just the team captain, I joined the Relay committee, and I’ve been a member of the committee on and off for the last several years,” she said.

Over time, Smith continued to serve with Relay, while enduring hardships related to cancer.

“I continued to Relay after losing many people to cancer, some of those closest to me. (I lost) my dad to throat cancer, my grandfather to lung cancer and a dear uncle to throat cancer as well. Then I was diagnosed in September of 2014. That’s when it really becomes real.”

Smith said a simple medical test ended up saving her life.

“I just went to have the lab work done to see if I carried the gene, because it was likely,” she said. “As a result, going forward with surgeries to prevent getting cancer, moving forward with a double mastectomy and a total hysterectomy, and preparing for those surgeries is when we found it that went undetected on a mammogram just three weeks prior. I’m a walking testimony for Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society.”

She also said she felt her involvement gave her the tools she needed in her battle.

“It absolutely prepared me,” she said. “Being involved in Relay, I was continuously staying up to date with new developments. Relay and the American Cancer Society actually supported financially the scientist Mary King, who discovered the BRCA mutation in the breast cancer gene, which prompted me to be tested for that. Being tested for that is what found my cancer, or it would’ve gone undetected.”

Smith went through chemotherapy treatments and four surgeries which ended on Feb. 3 and April 7, respectively, and received a wig made from hair her two daughters donated.

Throughout her battle, Smith said she had one goal in mind: Get better, then get out there and help.

“This year too, God has opened doors,” she said. “When I was diagnosed, I said ‘Lord, I want you to heal me. Heal me first and foremost, get rid of this, and after you heal me, use me. Use me to educate others, use me to be a sounding block to others, to help others going through this, let me help them find resources they need.’ My cancer was caught very early, and I had the option of whether I needed chemo or not, but because I carry the gene, the doctors suggested it. I feel the Lord wanted me to experience everything there is with cancer so I could help others.”

Smith said the 2015 Relay will have a very emotional impact for her.

“You’re still relaying for those loved ones and those fighting most definitely, but this year’s Relay will take on a whole different level of meaning to me,” she said. “I’ll get to walk that Survivor Lap for the first time. Relay this year is going to hit close to home. It’s going to be emotional, but it’s going to b a celebration as well, a celebration of life.”

Smith also said the community’s support of the event left a big impact on her.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “To see the community come together as one, everyone at Relay has a reason to be there. They have someone they’re relaying for, someone going through treatments or that’s passed, and it’s a way to remember them and honor them, but more importantly, fight back. Hopefully, my children won’t have to hear the words ‘You have cancer.’”

Smith, who recently took a position with the American Cancer Society as a staff partner and Relay community manager for the Chilton-Autauga-Montgomery area, said she still felt even more people could help the Relay cause.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know what it is,” she said. “(It’s) ultimately about saving lives. Until we find a cure for cancer, if cancer hasn’t found you (in some form), it will. So many people don’t realize the resources available on the local level, and I want them to know.”