St. Joe’s mini Re­lay for Life strength­ens bonds, changes per­spec­tives about cancer

The Southwest Booster - - NEWS - ELISABETHD­OWSON edow­[email protected]­

Stu­dents are busy set­ting up, ar­rang­ing folded t-shirts on ta­bles, es­cort­ing sur­vivors to their seats, ex­chang­ing hugs, do­ing sound checks. A path bor­dered by lu­mi­nar­ies with names of loved ones who have bat­tled cancer stretches across the back of the dark­ened gym­na­sium, used in ac­qui­es­cence to the threat of rain out­side.

On the side­lines is a young woman stand­ing be­side an open gui­tar case, ob­vi­ously get­ting ready to per­form. Be­fore she sings, she has a mes­sage. As she speaks, she in­di­cates a scar that stretches from one side of her neck down across her throat and up the other side of her neck. She has had her can­cer­ous thy­roid gland re­moved, in ad­di­tion to sev­eral tu­mours, and must take med­i­ca­tion and fol­low a spe­cial diet for the rest of her life.

She doesn’t care. She’s alive. Diedre Nel­son Smith ad­mits she is happy she had cancer. With the self-as­sur­ance of some­one who has lost ev­ery­thing she thought was im­por­tant, only to dis­cover she al­ready had ev­ery­thing she re­ally needed, Smith ex­plained, “It’s made me a bet­ter per­son. I’m very strong; I be­lieve I can do any­thing now.

“I have courage. All I need is the peo­ple who love me. I don’t need to worry about those who don’t.”

She’s only nine­teen, too young to be so wise but, like ev­ery­one who stares down cancer, she has drawn that courage and wis­dom from the deep­est re­cesses of her soul.

“I’m so thank­ful for how lucky I was, that I didn’t have bone cancer, or brain cancer. It’s al­ways in the back of my mind, when I’m down ... that I’m very lucky.”

Renee Nel­son Smith, Diedre’s mom, said their one and a half year jour­ney through this ex­pe­ri­ence has been in­tense, com­pounded by her own brush with cancer.

“We’ve been work­ing on this about a year and a half now, and in the midst of ev­ery­thing, I was also di­ag­nosed with pre­can­cer­ous cells ... so I had two surg­eries and four pro­ce­dures, so it’s a lot of jug­gling, and I can­celled a surgery so we could be with [Diedre] and had to re­book.”

In ad­di­tion to gain­ing the con­fi­dence to speak in pub­lic, Diedre hopes to get back to singing again de­spite her surgery. Be­fore she had cancer, she ad­mit­ted to be­ing “very shy, very care­free. I wasn’t very re­spon­si­ble. Be­fore, I felt sorry for peo­ple but I didn’t ac­tu­ally go out and do any­thing.

“Now, I think if I tell my story, maybe oth­ers will want to help. I’ve been work­ing on get­ting my con­fi­dence back up. I used to never pub­lic speak. I did a Terry Fox run in Chap­lin and that was my first time.”

Diedre also has plans for univer­sity. “I might de­cide to go into arts. I’m not sure what to do from there. I do love psy­chol­ogy.”

The St. Joseph Mini Re­lay for Life raised about $1,700 for the Cana­dian Cancer So­ci­ety.

Stu­dents at St. Joseph Mid­dle School par­tic­i­pate in their mini Re­lay for Life May 27 in sup­port of the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety.

Diedre Nel­son Smith tells her story of can­cer sur­vival dur­ing her sec­ond-ever pub­lic speak­ing en­gage­ment, prior to singing at the St. Joseph Mini Re­lay for Life in sup­port of can­cer re­search.

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