The Power of Positivity After a Cancer Diagnosis

5 min read  |  June 21, 2024  | 

Lung cancer survivor encourages others to “get right back up and fight.”

After recovering from COVID-19 for a second time, Sherrie Smyth was excited to return to her active, South Florida lifestyle. She resumed playing tennis but suffered from a lingering shortness of breath. When her symptoms worsened, she decided to see a doctor.

Over the next few months, she saw three providers who diagnosed her with a variety of conditions. Although both of her parents died from lung cancer, the providers assured her she was cancer-free, even after a chest X-ray showed an abnormality.

“I realized I was not getting the best care,” says Smyth. “I waited too long between appointments, took unnecessary tests and didn’t trust the diagnoses. I stopped ignoring my body’s signals and began advocating for myself.”

She insisted on a CT scan. In March 2023, she heard the words she feared. Inoperable, stage 4 lung cancer had metastasized to her adrenals and brain.

“My world changed in an instant,” says Smyth. “After I finished crying, I gathered the facts and developed a plan. I was determined to return to tennis the following year.”

Finding a new health care team

Smyth followed a friend’s advice and contacted Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. During her first week at Sylvester, she met with a doctor, had surgery and a complete work-up, and her case was presented to Sylvester’s tumor board. She began treatment a few weeks later and has since completed radiation and chemotherapy. She is now on maintenance immunotherapy.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Smyth. “Sylvester changed the course of my cancer journey and put me on a different path. My team of doctors and nurses are incredibly knowledgeable, compassionate and supportive.”

A strong support system

Smyth acknowledges her strong support system at home and at Sylvester. Her husband, David, and 16-year-old daughter, Summer, have been by her side throughout her journey. David has never missed an appointment.

She has used her battle with cancer as a teaching moment for her daughter.

“I want Summer to understand the importance of resilience,” says Smyth. “When you are knocked down, you don’t lose hope. You get right back up and fight, no matter how difficult it is.”

Smyth considers Sylvester’s cancer survivorship services invaluable. The organization’s supportive oncology care, including acupuncture, art therapy, nutrition counseling, massage therapy and support groups, provides a comprehensive approach to cancer care.

“A cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact every aspect of a patient’s life,” says Adrienne Vazquez Guerra, APRN, a cancer survivorship nurse practitioner at Sylvester. “Our multidisciplinary team of clinicians and scientists collaborates to address any physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of patients at every stage — before, during and after cancer treatment.”

According to Frank Penedo, Ph.D., associate director of population sciences and director of Cancer Survivorship and Supportive Care at Sylvester,  survivorship and support services are not mere adjuncts to cancer treatment; they are fundamental to addressing the often unmet needs of patients.

“These services play a crucial role in the holistic healing process during our patients’ journeys through their care, offering psychosocial support to address their emotional, physical, and other needs that complement medical interventions. Without such support, the journey to recovery can be profoundly isolating and incomplete,” he says.

Sharing some lessons learned

Smyth says her diagnosis has changed her forever. She has been sharing her story with other cancer survivors, offering advice as they navigate their own journeys. Smyth’s personal survivorship tenets include:

Be your own advocate.

“If I accepted my initial diagnosis of asthma, I would probably be dead,” says Smyth. “Stay in tune with your body and advocate for your own health. If you sense something is wrong, push until you get an accurate answer.”

Cancer is part of the story, not the final chapter.

“A cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” says Smyth. “Fight. Fight. Fight.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

“I re-prioritized my list of things that are truly important, like health and family, and focus on them,” says Smyth.

Find meaning in your journey.

To help find a cure, my daughter and I joined Team Mack Cycle and raised $30,000 during this year’s Dolphins Challenge Cancer, an annual ride, walk or run event that raises funds for innovative cancer research at Sylvester.”

Living her best life

Smyth says her most important advice is to stay positive. Despite the constant physical and mental challenges, she finds a way to live her best life every day. She recently received the news she has been waiting for. She is in remission, with no evidence of disease.

“I am grateful to Sylvester for saving my life,” says Smyth. “I will continue to live my life to the fullest by playing more tennis, traveling more and spending more time with family. I am a survivor.”

Debby Teich is a contributor for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Tags: cancer care in Miami, Dr. Frank Penedo, lung cancer, positive attitude, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Continue Reading