You have cancer. Three words nobody ever wants to hear, but that’s exactly what Virginia Smith, 88, was told more than 40 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Parkway Place member was a missionary in the Middle East and went in for her yearly checkup when doctors discovered a lump. It was in the early stages, so doctors sent her back to the United States to have surgery. Smith underwent a mastectomy and four weeks of treatment and rehabilitation. She relied on her faith and family to get through the difficult time.

“When the doctors told me I had cancer all I could think was, ‘I don’t want this.’ I was just shocked that I was diagnosed with the disease,” said Smith. “I was 49 years old and already spent more than 15 years in the Middle East as a missionary. I knew I had to go back to the United States for surgery and treatment. A lot of people don’t realize women didn’t receive a lumpectomy back then. It was only a mastectomy, which can be traumatic for many women. I have been in remission ever since. I am very blessed and believe my faith played a large part in my recovery.”

October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and many women share their stories to help educate others and support those battling the disease. Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among American women, with one in eight women expected to develop the disease during their lifetime. While treatment has advanced tremendously in the last 40 years, Smith says early detection is key to fighting the disease. She credits her yearly exam for saving her life.

“It’s very important to do self-exams and go to the doctor regularly,” said Smith. “I spent 31 years as a missionary overseas and always made time to visit the doctor because taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do. While my breast cancer has been in remission for 40 years, I have battled skin cancer in that time. Thankfully, technology is improving every day, which I’ve witnessed firsthand while going through my other battle. I am encouraged with the new treatments offered for women and men facing breast cancer, and I know that the dedicated researchers and doctors will find a cure one day.”

“It’s people like Virginia who motivate us at Parkway Place,” said Susan Phelps, executive director at Parkway Place. “She offers life-saving advice for women and encourages all of us to get yearly exams. Breast health is very important, and we hope Virginia telling her story inspires others to get their annual mammogram and perform regular self-exams. She dedicated her life to serving others, and it’s that strength that helped her overcome her battles.”

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