Breast cancer survivor knows importance of support network

Published 12:20 am Friday, October 13, 2017

Cancer was not new to Monica Smith.

By the time she was diagnosed in 2014, her mother, father and grandmother had already been diagnosed.

For her father, Elijah Hickombottom and her grandmother, Alice Donnan Mazique, cancer was fatal.

Email newsletter signup

So, when her doctor told her in April 2014 that he saw the signs of early stage breast cancer, she understood all the illness could entail.

“I always had this fear that one day I would get cancer because I was surrounded with family members who did,” Smith said. “I didn’t tell my family for about three weeks. I thought I had to figure it out by myself before I told them.”

Smith said it was not her understanding of the illness that carried her through treatments, however. It was her family.

“Without my family, I don’t know where I would have been,” she said. “Those three weeks I didn’t tell my family, I couldn’t even function. Me holding that in from them, it did something to me.”

Smith said she is incredibly close to her mother, Peggie Hickombottom, but while keeping her illness a secret, she began to feel alienated and alone.

When she decided to share the news with her family, Smith said her children — Lateria, Larry, Lucas, Kelvin and Arthur — were upset and worried.

Her mother, however, had a different stance.

“My mom said, ‘You’re going to be OK,’” Smith said. “Once I knew that she was OK, it made everything else OK.”

Even after opting for a double mastectomy to diminish the chance of cancer returning, Smith said her journey was not over.

“I had a lot of complications, and I was having to go back and forth to New Orleans every two weeks,” she said. “In the midst of all that, I lost my job.”

When she did not know where to turn or how she would make her next doctor’s appointment without a source of income, she found herself relying on her family once again.

The familial support that Smith had, she said, is not available to all cancer survivors. That is why Smith created Monica’s Hope.

“We fundraise to help cancer patients,” she said. “Most of the time, they have doctors’ appointments out of town and don’t have gas money. It can be no more than $50 or $75 to help save their life.”

Each year Smith organizes fundraising events to help pay for the gas money, mammograms and minor bills of cancer patients.

Having to turn away a survivor, she said, is painful — especially those who just need enough money to get by for the week.

“Even if I have money in the account with the organization, I’ll take it out of my pocket to get groceries for someone,” she said.

One of her primary focuses, though, is promoting an open conversation surrounding cancer and illness in general.

“People don’t like talking about sickness,” she said. “So, what I have to do is put a message out.”

Just hearing the stories of other survivors — such as the testimonies given at various events throughout the year or the accounts she shares on Facebook — can help someone currently in treatment understand they are not alone.

Talking about her own struggles with cancer was difficult at first, she said.

“I had to get to the point that I was comfortable talking about it,” Smith said. “My story could possibly help the next person. That’s the way I look at it.”

Without a constant conversation about the risks of cancer, Smith said promoting prevention and early detection is difficult.

“I always stress how important early detection is,” Smith said. “People sometimes notice things off about their bodies but don’t do anything about it.”

Early detection helped save her, Smith said, and it can save others, too.

Since cancer has always been something of a family trait, Smith said she often worries about her daughters being diagnosed.

“When you’ve gone through cancer you’re always thinking, ‘What if it comes back?’” she said.

Smith finds comfort, she said, in knowing that if ever she or anyone in her family is diagnosed again, they have the support of everyone in her organization.

That, she said, gives her hope.