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Courtney H. Smith and Beryl V. Smith
Meet PoP: Letter From the President

Cancer can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest men and women. It is something you always feel happens to other people, not to you or to one of your loved ones. In April of 2004, during my junior year of college, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she initially noticed a lump under her left arm (in February of 2003), she immediately went to her doctor. According to her physician, the lump was just an infected ingrown hair. Not feeling completely comfortable with the diagnosis, my mother obtained the opinion of a second doctor. That doctor also diagnosed her with an infected ingrown hair follicle. This doctor did, however, send her for a mammogram, the results of which showed no sign of abnormalities in her breasts. However, the mammogram had not x-rayed under her arm where the alleged ingrown hair follicle was located. She was treated with antibiotics. When the lump reappeared a year later, doctors gave her the same diagnosis: an infected ingrown hair follicle. Having had a negative reaction to the previously prescribed antibiotics, and wanting to completely rid herself of the problem, this time my mother requested that the lump be surgically removed. A pre-op meeting was scheduled with the surgeon so that my mom could be examined and have her x-rays reviewed. It was during that meeting that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was completely baffled as to why her cancer had not been discovered by the doctors who had treated her the year before. After all, hadn't she done the right thing by going to her doctor for diagnosis and treatment as soon as the lump first appeared? She had even sought and obtained the opinion of a second doctor. One of the hardest things that she and our family had to deal with was the fact that she had been misdiagnosed for more than a year. As devastating as that diagnosis of breast cancer was, my mother maintained a positive outlook and set out to do the things that she thought would restore her to good health.

My mom underwent two surgeries and had fifteen lymph nodes removed from under her left arm. She also had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. On October 5, 2005, my 21st birthday, she was officially declared cancer- free. I thought the worst was over and that I would soon have my mom back in good health. But, just as she and my family thought her health was improving, she was diagnosed with leukemia. I couldn't believe this! My heart absolutely sank. Unfortunately, my mother was one of the three percent of breast cancer patients who, as a result of chemotherapy, are diagnosed with leukemia. My mom spent many months in the hospital. She underwent numerous attempts at bone marrow transplants, had blood transfusions and chemo treatments. She endured trips to various cancer specialty hospitals across the country. She suffered greatly but never once complained. In fact, she was always more worried about all of the other patients in the hospital and how they were coping with their illnesses than she was worried about her own well-being. In February of 2006, my mother lost her battle with cancer. Without a doubt, she will remain one of the bravest people I will ever know.

I share my story with you to help you realize that had my mom known to be a proactive patient, she might still be here with us today. If only she had trusted her gut instinct to have the lump under her arm removed; or known to make sure the mammogram included an image of her breasts as well as her underarms; or ordered more x-rays. Had these things been done, it's quite possible that her breast cancer would have been detected in its early stage.

Inspiration from my mother's experience has given me a passion to educate individuals about the importance of early detection and cancer prevention. I pledge to reach out to as many individuals as possible in hopes of sparking conversation about cancer and demystifying the negative stigma that makes people so afraid to talk about it. It is important to remember that after receiving a cancer diagnosis, there is hope. We must become proactive patients and seek knowledge for our families and for ourselves. It is my hope that Package of Prevention will serve as a reminder for you to 1) get screened for cancer, 2) maintain regular physical visits, and 3) become a proactive patient by asking your doctor the questions that count.

Courtney Smith
Founder & President
Package of Prevention