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