Cancer Awareness

ESPN’s Shelley Smith: On a Mission

We’ve spoken to a number of cancer survivors for V’s Voice. No matter their age, gender, background or cancer type, they all share an attitude of enthusiasm and gratitude. And they all want to help other cancer survivors.

ESPN anchor Shelley Smith is no different. With her unique position to reach so many people, Smith is on a mission.

Smith_ShelleyLike many others before her, Smith faced her breast cancer diagnosis head on. She didn’t have a choice. So she put on some boxing gloves and took a swing. She lost her hair because of the treatments. She didn’t have a choice then, either. She went to the wig store and tried on new hair and surprisingly, again, that’s when she took another swing. This time she had a choice. She made a unique one.

After four rounds of chemotherapy, in the spring of 2015, Smith sported a perfectly round, beautiful, hair-free head. When she returned to work after her treatments started, it was in front of the TV cameras at the 2015 NFL Draft. She was a bald bold woman on TV.

Recalling the decision, she remembers, “My oncologist said it would empower women. ESPN said, ‘We welcome your shaved head.’ You know, it was harder to see it in the mirror when I got up in the middle of the night. That’s when you forget, and you look up and it’s gone. I was really more nervous about forgetting names because of the chemo brain.”

Smith was diagnosed with cancer after a mammogram in the early summer of 2014. She had the test, jumped on a flight to cover the NBA playoffs and returned to the news of the disease. A close friend had also faced the same battle and done extensive research, so Smith used all of her friend’s doctors for the MRIs, biopsies and bone scans that were to come. It was three months of “torture” waiting to determine if Smith’s cancer had spread beyond her breast. It was found in two lymph nodes.

By July, she had set a plan – she would take an oral medication for six months to shrink the tumor to make the impending surgery less invasive. In January 2015, she would have surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Her finish line would be mid-June.

It all sounds so calm and reads like a grocery list. But when describing it, she used words like “terrified” and “ballistic.” But she found peace by having a plan and sticking to it. Smith also created a team to help support her. Her first call after her diagnosis was to her daughter.

“[My daughter] drove home. We knew this was serious. She was there during treatment. At first, we didn’t know how to get through it. It was harder for her than it was for me. She had no control of the situation,” Smith recalled. Her parents, four girlfriends from college, her close friends from work, along with her daughter, joined her support team.

She had already written her play book, and she had her offensive line ready. The only thing left would be to make the snap and review the action after the play. And that’s when she made another bold choice.

Remember how we mentioned cancer survivors want to help other cancer patients? Smith decided that her final check – the one to see how well her lumpectomy removed the cancer – would be filmed for a documentary. That means a camera crew followed her for her imaging test and meeting with the physician. She did not know what she would hear, but she wanted to educate other women by taking them into the room with her.

“I wanted to take people into the process. A lot of women, especially younger ones, haven’t been through this. I had a good idea I was cancer-free, but I’d had no tests,” she explained.

In that visit, seen here, she learned her treatments had been successful. She was told her margins were clear, and she had no more cancer. So, what next?

“I’m going to do what I can to stay healthy and to help other people. I want to encourage women to get mammograms. For people who can’t find time or don’t have the right insurance, there are people who will help you,” she said.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Athletes sport pink jerseys to remember, we join in walks to raise money, and so many organizations find a way to join in the pink movement. As we raise awareness and support those in the fight, remember research is making a difference. More women are surviving, and treatment is improving because scientists work every day to understand and defeat the disease. Donate today – help more survive. And while it’s on your mind, schedule a mammogram. It might save your life.

The V Foundation has awarded nearly $17 million dollars since 1993 to breast cancer research.