Message to survivor: ‘Your community loves you”

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, February 14, 2018

By Ken Stickney

BEAUMONT — Judith Smith of Port Arthur could tell you plenty about cancer and all that it takes from you.

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But her experience through her own cancer struggle gave her lots, too: empathy, new insight, added sensitivity.

Smith, a nurse for almost four decades and director of health services for Port Arthur’s health department, was part of a large crowd at the Celebration of Life and Love at the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program held Tuesday at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.

The program held a Valentine’s Day theme, a cancer survivor’s opportunity to embrace life. Holli Petersen, a spokeswoman for the Gift of Life program, said there were “some victories, some losses” among those in attendance, but Tuesday was a day for survivors to “know what it means to be a survivor,” and to know that no matter what, “your community loves you.”

Smith spent most of her life caring for others at the Port Arthur health department, where she’s worked for 34 years. Two years ago, she said, she heard the word for which no one is really prepared: Cancer.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said, and she knew well what that meant. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery — not unlike people she’s cared for her whole career.

“This event is massive for me,” she said.

It was massive for others, too, who heard the Rev. James Fuller, senior pastor of Calder Baptist Church, call the roll of 25 patients who passed away this year. Their struggles against cancer were “a badge of honor,” he said, and “part of our history.”

“They walk beside us every day,” he said.

The non-profit Gift of Life Cancer program provides services, medical and educational, to seven counties in Southeast Texas, Petersen said. It has been in service for 23 years.

In 2017, it provided 2,026 breast cancer screenings, 467 prostate cancer screenings, and provided educational outreach to 21,000 people. Seventeen women were diagnosed with breast cancer, three men with prostate cancer.

Total, for 17 years a supporter of the Gift of Life, provided the support for Tuesday’s celebration. Total spokeswoman Camille Briggs said, “We all have been touched by someone with cancer.”

Smith said her cancer struggle has taught her “to live life to the fullest.”

And, she said, “It has caused me to be more humble.”