In this personal essay below, Dr. Kim Smith, an ob/gyn with Central Arkansas Women’s Group, describes her own journey with Stage 4 breast cancer and the lessons she learned and continues to share with patients today.
My cancer journey started in 2003. Four years prior, from 1999 to 2002, my husband and I were serving as medical missionaries in Kenya, East Africa. We came back to the United States in spring 2002 with two toddlers. We joined medical practices in Little Rock that summer, and our plan was to work in Arkansas for a short time, then return to Africa. However, God had different plans for us. In 2003, at age 36, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.
When I found the lump, I was convinced that I had imagined it. These things didn’t happen to me. I took care of patients who had cancer, but I was not someone who got cancer. I did my best to pretend it wasn’t so. I was busy, after all, a mother of three active toddlers, an ob/gyn with a thriving medical practice. I just did not have time to be ill.
I went for a biopsy, convinced that I was fine. Days later my doctor phoned me and said, “Kim, I’m sorry.”
My oncologist told me that cancer did not have to be my entire novel. It was just a chapter. In my darkest hours of battling cancer, the roses still bloomed, and the stars still came out at night.
I am reminded that the choices I made helped me heal and survive.
Choose to have faith. I have weathered some real challenges throughout my life, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I realized this one was really going to put my faith in God to the test. Early on, I had some pretty good pity parties, but it didn’t take me too long to remember that God has a plan for my life, and He is with me at all times. I decided to get “better, not bitter.” With God’s Word to stand on and the prayers of my family and friends, I have made it through the storm.
Choose to love who you are. All of us will get old, fat, thin; you’ll look sad, tired, worn-out, dragged down, bummed out. So what? You’ll still have the same beautiful smile, your one-of-a-kind laugh, and your wicked sense of humor. Some changes are temporary, though they seem like forever. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Don’t listen to people who do.
Choose how you spend your time today. Since my experience with breast cancer, how to live for today becomes very important. I am glad that I cannot see tomorrow because it might distract me from today. We can never undo the past. The future belongs to God, but you and I can do a lot for today. Quit looking for tomorrow. Don’t miss a single thing that is going today. Don’t be afraid to live.
Choose to live your dream. In 2006, we returned to Kenya to serve as medical missionaries. I was involved with specialized surgeries for women, especially vesicovaginal fistula repair, and got to travel to Burundi, Rwanda and Congo. We made many new friends and saw God’s incredible miracles. Many of our friends and family members were questioning why I returned to Kenya, where I would not be able to have the same level of medical care as in the United States. I could not run away from my circumstances or control the path of my disease, but I could control what I did with my experience of that illness. I chose to be a medical missionary in Africa. That was the right answer to my problem.
Choose to share. Reach out even if you are not the sort of person who does that. When you share something, the act of sharing changes you. I have many patients who are cancer survivors. I can talk to these women for hours. They each gave me their wisdom and shared their experiences. They had already been through the war and could report back as survivors who knew the score.