If Nancy C. Smith could offer one piece of advice to women it would be to make sure you’re getting an annual mammogram.
“That’s what caught my breast cancer,” the 62-year-old Bedford resident said.
Smith went for her yearly exam June 5, 2012, and her doctor in Bedford discovered two lumps in her left breast. That quickly followed with an ultrasound and biopsy to determine what they were dealing with.
On June 14, 2012, Smith received a phone call at home telling her it was breast cancer.
“It was a Thursday evening and I was finishing up dinner with my mom but I didn’t tell her,” Smith said. “I went outside and shed a few tears. I never thought it would happen to me.”
She decided to seek out another opinion and made an appointment with Dr. Dianna Craig at the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.
But the diagnosis was the same.
On July 30, 2012, Smith had surgery to remove the two lumps and also three lymph nodes from her left arm.
Luckily, tests came back negative on the lymph nodes showing that the cancer had not spread.
But because the cancerous lumps grew quickly, it was decided to do both chemotherapy and radiation.
On Aug. 27, 2012, she started chemo that lasted through six cycles. Then there were 33 treatments of radiation that she finished in February.
“The radiation was Monday through Friday and it was done in Altoona,” Smith said. “Dr. (Jack) Schocker made arrangements to have a van travel through Bedford to pick people up for treatments.”
She said there were about seven or eight other cancer patients on the bus and the group still keeps in touch.
“We laughed and made the best of it,” Smith said.
During the time she was undergoing treatments, Smith was taking care of her ill mother, who passed away a day before her last chemo treatment; got married to her second husband, Robert; and decided to retire from her job as an activity assistant at Donahoe Manor in Bedford.
“It really was a wild year. What a ride,” she said.
Smith recalled losing her hair and said at first she wore scarves and wigs, but she was never comfortable with either.
“I thought, ‘So what if I don’t hair? I’m still me and I’m not ashamed,’ ” Smith said.
Thankfully, the emotional roller coaster finally slowed down when Smith learned the treatments were successful and she was cancer free.
“What a relief,” she said. “I’m doing really well.”
She’ll continue with routine checkups and needs to take the cancer drug Arimidex for 71/2 years for precautionary measures.
“I’m still here, and I’m going to make the best of every day because life is short and you never know how many days you have left,” Smith said.
She credits her family and faith as what got her through the tough times and said having cancer changed her outlook on life.
“Colors are brighter and I feel closer to God,” Smith said.
Smith admitted that if she had taken a few extra minutes in the shower and done a breast self-exam, she probably would have felt the grape-sized lumps and caught the cancer sooner.
“Now I tell other women to take time for themselves and don’t be in such a hurry,” she said.
Kelly Urban is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/KellyUrban25.