Kendall Smiley credits her bucket list for saving her life. At 36 she entered a body building competition to check another goal off the list. She would go on to do much more than that, competing in multiple events and coming in first for most of them. On a strict eating and workout regiment, she was acutely aware of every aspect of her body. It’s why, when she felt a pea sized painful lump in her breast, she consulted her doctor right away.
An occupational therapist herself, Kendall was aware of the importance being proactive was. It led her to an ultrasound and biopsy at Dana Farber on April 15, 2013. When a second doctor was pulled into the room, she “knew something was wrong.” Intending to meet a friend at the marathon finish line, the pain of the biopsy had her change course and head home. It’s a decision that could have saved her life, as on her ride home she heard the news that the finish line had been bombed. Emotional, tired and scared already, the news proved even more saddening.
The very next day she got a call she had stage one breast cancer: “I am one of the healthiest people I knew and here I am finding out I have breast cancer. I was getting married in August, I wanted to have children. It was all just so much.” She decided on Dana Farber for treatment and made a deliberate effort to have an all female care team. Together they decided she would first go through IVF for two months to preserve her chances at having children. She went on to have a lumpectomy, 16 rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation. To every appointment, she dressed to impress: “I dressed so over the top to go to Dana Farber. Fake fur, boots, makeup- that’s what makes me feel good.”
When her hair began to fall out, her fiancé and his twin toddler boys helped her buzz her head. It didn’t hold her back from having her dream wedding that August: “I got the best and most expensive wig I could find and it matched my husband’s red hair.” Though it’s a sorority she never wanted to be apart of, she is able to talk about it now without being as triggered. Her advice to the newly diagnosed is to “ find whatever is going to keep your energy up- love of your family, friends, a craft, a hobby- anything. Everything in your cancer journey is subject to change, so you want good energy around you. It’s your journey, no one else’s and it’s whatever you can do to heal.”
Although being a ten year cancer survivor has Kendall smiling, its the IVF journey that feels even better. Beaming with pride, she is happy to report her son just celebrated his sixth birthday- a true ode to modern medicine and the strength of Kendall during her cancer journey.