KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Often, breast cancer is seen as a burden. While no one would choose the diagnosis, Susan Smith makes a daily decision to look on the bright side.
After a few seconds of meeting her, you can tell Smith's light shines from the tips of her toes to the tears in her jeans.
She has several pairs of decorated "fancy pants." She wore a special pair, filled with pink and Bible verses, all through her treatment. Her friend, Ingrid Kidd, made them.
Smith's favorite verse sits in the middle of the left leg, "The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still." She said it's that reminder that helps her breathe.
That's been the theme throughout her whole journey.
"The journey is breast cancer, something that I never thought that was on my radar, but it did come up," Smith said.
It started last March when she found a lump. She was always on top of her breast self-checks and mammograms. She had just gotten one done a few months prior.
She was standing in her kitchen when she felt an itch. When she scratched it, she noticed the abnormal mass.
"The very next day, I called my breast center, and I got an appointment for the next week," Smith said. "When I went in there, I did another 3D mammogram, did the ultrasound and nothing was able to be found. On the self-check, they did feel it."
After running tests and a needle biopsy, the pink ribbon wove its way into her life.
"At 5:30 on that Monday, I was told that I did have invasive lobular breast cancer," Smith said. "I was sitting in my kitchen, my mother and my husband and my children were sitting in the living room, and they could tell by my face that I had received the news. It was complete shock."
From there, she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. She also started radiation treatments. Smith said it's a good decision she made too because doctors found tumors in her other breast after surgery as well.
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She prayed every step of the path.
"I've never questioned, 'Why me?' because I know I'm not alone on this journey," Smith said. "He will be glorified, and I have had to say, 'Devil leave me alone,' but I know He will not forsake me."
She has a different way of looking at her diagnosis.
"I know this sounds strange, but I'm thankful for breast cancer," Smith said. "I've learned so much about myself because I'm not weak, I'm strong."
Through scans and tests, more spots popped up.
"I found a pancreatic mucinous, neoplasm cyst," Smith said. "The cyst itself is not rare, but where it's located is. No one has ever performed a surgery like this, they've never seen one in this location. So, I'm going to MD Anderson for that. This last visit, because of breast cancer, it led to another CT scan. Now we have found a tumor in my ascending colon."
She refuses to let her health define who she is.
"You are still you," Smith said. "No matter whether you have breast cancer, you're still you with breast cancer. It may have taken away my breasts, but it didn't take away my spirit."
The power of community, with family, friends and the online group Breast Connect, helps her power through.
"They gave me beautiful flowers from Random Acts of Flowers," Smith said. "They have given me encouragement, they're praying for me, and I found out once again, I'm not alone on this journey."
From her fancy pants to every uplifting message and card she's gotten, it all helps her light shine brighter.
"I seem to want to laugh louder and love harder," Smith said. "You find beauty in the small things."
Susan said she won't give up as long as she still has a purpose on this earth. She wants to be around to continue watching her son and daughter grow up and to meet her grandchildren.