26-Year Breast Cancer Survivor Spreads Message of Hope and Endurance

October 28, 2015

Emma Jenkins-Smith, 74, was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 10, 1989.

After her diagnosis, she stood at one of the most difficult crossroads of her life, especially after losing health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition and her new cancer diagnosis.

Those memories are almost too much for Smith to bear, but they are the same memories that gave her a new purpose in life.

Smith’s physician referred her to the Cancer State Aid Program at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). That’s when things started to turn around in her cancer journey.

Through DPH’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (BCCP), Smith was able to connect to important screening and breast cancer treatment resources that saved her life.

“The Cancer State Aid Program is my real champion,” said Smith. “They took me in when I knew of no other insurance resources. Had it not been for them, I never would have made it.”

Smith underwent three surgeries to remove benign lumps from both breasts. Due to fear and a strong family history of cancer, she waited to pursue treatment. With such a strong family link to cancer, she was unsure if she would win the fight against the disease.

“I have a deep family history with breast cancer,” she said. “I’ve had five first cousins who lost their battle to breast cancer. My mother and aunts all had daughters who had breast cancer. I’m the only one who survived breast cancer.”

Smith did win the fight against breast cancer and is now living to tell her story and empower other women.

She survived her breast cancer diagnosis by receiving six months of chemotherapy, 40 dosages of radiation and extended use of Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy prescription for breast cancer, to reduce her risks of the cancer returning.

Today, Smith is a proud 26-year breast cancer survivor. She is now retired and admired by the BCCP staff for her willingness to motivate and save the lives of women in her Lincoln County community. 

“My county is very rural,” said Smith. “We do not have public transportation to get to our mammograms and other important health screenings for men and women.”

As an American Cancer Society patient navigator, Smith supports women throughout their own treatments and surgeries for breast cancer. She also is a community activist committed to encouraging her fellow community members to secure regular breast cancer screenings.

“I show patients that I’m just like them,” she said. “I once had breast cancer and I’m now a survivor for twenty-six-and-a-half years. They don’t have to walk this road alone; I’m here to help them face their fears. Most of all, I want to let the women know that there is help and hope out here.”

Cathy Broom is the BCCP program manager in the Chronic Disease Prevention Section at DPH. She has known Smith as long as she has worked in public health.                                                                                

“I’ve known Emma for 24 years as she was the first spokesperson for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, giving the keynote address at the kickoff luncheon for BreasTEST in 1994 as a breast cancer survivor who received treatment through the Cancer State Aid Program,” said Broom. “She continued to work for our program as a volunteer and later as a patient navigator in the Augusta Health District until her retirement in August 2014. We are so honored to have her continued support in the fight against breast cancer.”

Through DPH’s BCCP, women are provided access to breast and cervical cancer screening services, health education, follow-up diagnostic evaluation and case management. BCCP also provides the public with its Breast Cancer Gene Screen website to help individuals understand the importance of family health history and evaluate their risks for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

To learn more about DPH’s Breast and Cervical Cancer program, visit www.dph.georgia.gov/BCCP or contact Cathy Broom at Cathy.Broom@dph.ga.gov.  

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