‘I hope my little bit helps’

Published 7:03 pm Saturday, March 25, 2017

It should come as no surprise that there is a Relay for Life team called simply “The Survivors.”

Everybody on the team is a survivor or a caregiver, and Kathleen Smith, a six-year survivor, is the team captain.

Smith said she supports Relay because of what it means to survivors and also because it funds research and support for cancer patients.

Email newsletter signup

“Relay for Life helps, because you’re honored and respected because of what you’ve been through,” she said. “You’re with a whole bunch of people who understand.”

About six years ago, Smith had a mole that changed shape and started bleeding. She went to several different doctors, who brushed it off. One agreed to remove it and biopsy it but, even when the test showed it was cancerous, did not believe she needed any further treatment.

But Smith didn’t take him at his word. She eventually found a specialist in Pennsylvania who believed her cancer was further advanced than initially thought and believed she needed treatment.

Smith looked again in Virginia and found Dr. Daniel Atienza at Virginia Oncology Associates.

“If you have to have cancer, you want a doctor like he is,” Smith said. “He made me laugh, even when he had not terrific news to tell me. He made me feel like he really did care about me as a person, not just a cancer patient.”

Through Atienza’s treatment, Smith became a cancer survivor. She still goes to a doctor regularly for a screening and recommends regular cancer screenings for everybody.

“When you go to the dermatologist for a melanoma screening, if you don’t walk out of there thoroughly embarrassed, you didn’t get a good screening,” she said. “It can show up anywhere. People think it’s just because of the sun, and it’s not.”

While Smith never spent a lot of time in the sun to begin with, she now takes extra precautions while she’s outside.

“I don’t want to take a chance on getting it again,” she said, adding that she wears a long-sleeve shirt and enormous, floppy hat, even in the summertime. “People can die from it, because people don’t take the precautions they need.”

Smith believes she survived, in part, because of fundraisers like Relay for Life.

“I believe that cancer research is going to be what saves us all,” she said. “Without help from everybody, it’s not going to work out nearly as fast as everybody pulling together and trying to consolidate this money in different areas for research. That’s what happened with melanoma. I do Relay faithfully every year now, because I hope my little bit helps somewhere, somehow.”

This year’s Relay for Life of Suffolk will be held at Nansemond River High School on Friday, May 19, from 6 p.m. to midnight.

There is a fundraising goal of $200,000. So far, about $26,150 has been raised.

Visit www.relayforlife.org/suffolkva for more information.