For most young women, the thought of breast cancer rarely crosses their mind, but maybe it should. At age 34, Candice Smith, a veteran dancer of 26 years, kick-boxer and healthy-lifestyle advocate, learned that “cancer doesn’t discriminate” and “no one is immune to it”.
Candice has loved to dance since before she can even remember, so much so that she dedicated 26 years of her life to it. It’s this innate self-discipline and passion for competition that has propelled her dedication to fitness and healthy-lifestyle even after her dancing career.
“I actually feel like fitness helped save my life,” said Candice as she recalls one evening back in February after returning home from the gym. “If it had not been for removing a sweaty sports bra, I may not have found the lump as early as I did.” Knowing her family’s history of cancer, she immediately called her doctor and insisted that she schedule a mammogram. After having a 3-D mammogram and subsequent ultrasound at Catawba Valley Imaging Center, the radiologist informed Candice that the area was, indeed, highly suspicious for malignancy and introduced her to Kim Weaver RN, BSN, OCN, Cancer Navigation Coordinator for CVMC. In the privacy of Kim’s office, Candice was able to ask questions, express concerns and receive counseling on how to prepare for and make an appointment for her breast biopsy. Because Candice chose to have her biopsy at Catawba Valley Imaging Center, Kim was able to be there the day Candice found out she had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) Stage 0 breast cancer and helped educate her and her husband on their next steps. “Kim is more than my care coordinator, she has really become one of my best friends,” explains Candice. “She’s always available whether I need advice, encouragement or just to talk. At times I feel closer to her, than to some people I have known almost my whole life.”
Kim has been with Candice and her family through every step of her journey, from coordinating and attending doctors’ appointments to her surgery on April 1st(a double mastectomy with first stages of reconstruction) and then her final implant surgery, performed by cosmetic surgeon Dr. Steve Siciliano, on July 17th. “I wasn’t sure what life would be life,” Candice describes as she remembers how she felt after surgery. “Would I be the same fun-loving, passionate young woman that I was before?” One thing was for sure; the experience had changed her in more ways than expected. Candice explains, “I have had good and bad days since April, even though I may look fine on the outside –internally I battle feelings of grief, anxiety and uncertainty daily worrying for myself and others who are going through a similar journey.” Even though she still struggles from day to day, she remains positive and now views life as an opportunity to do something great. She emphasizes, “I want to do all I can to spread early detection and awareness. So many young women I know have been affected by this terrible disease.”
Candice has already had several opportunities to use her experience as platform to help raise awareness. In May she walked for AnaOno, a lingerie line exclusively for women who have had surgery related to a breast cancer diagnosis, in their first fashion show in Charlotte. And, just last month she traveled to California to share her story, pose in a vintage-inspired pin-up style calendar, and become a 2016 Love, Twelve Bombshell. Even though she can’t lift as heavy as she is used to she still manages to get in the gym everyday and is planning on competing in a NPC (National Physique Committee) Bikini competition at the end of October, wearing pink for breast cancer awareness, of course.
Candice is thankful for all of the incredible medical staff, family and friends that have and continue supporting her through her journey to find what she calls her “new normal”. Continuing to do everything she can to spread awareness and help other people realize the importance of self-awareness she wants to remind us that “No matter how young you are and no matter how healthy you are – become more aware your body and know when something is not right. Do no wait, go as soon as you feel something and take care of your health.”
CVMC offers assistance in locating area support groups and programs for cancer patients. Resources including sources for mastectomy supplies, ostomy supplies, wigs and other medical equipment are available. For more information about community programs and services to assist with paying for treatment, obtaining supplies and transportation call the Catawba Valley Medical Center Community Cancer Resource Center at 828.732.6054.