Mayor says being on council ‘saved my life’ during breast-cancer battle

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Nancy Smith is surrounded by friends and family on the night she was sworn in as Maricopa's mayor. [Bryan Mordt]

It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Participating in activities to heighten breast-cancer awareness, raising funds for research and offering support to those diagnosed were things Nancy Smith did gladly.

Long before her own diagnosis. Little did she know.

“Seven years ago, I had the unfortunate visit to my doctor, when he indicated he saw a mass,” Smith said.

Smith, who was sworn in as Maricopa’s first female mayor in August after nearly eight years on City Council, has been open about her diagnosis and ensuing battle with breast cancer.

She is now six years cancer-free.

“I started chemotherapy right away to reduce the size of the mass, and it was very successful,” Smith said. “Then, they evaluated if they could remove part of the mass or go ahead and do the full mastectomy. It seemed like the safer route was to go with the mastectomy, so we did that, and after my surgery I was defined as cancer-free.”

Smith said serving on City Council at the time gave her a reason to keep fighting.

“I really feel like being a councilmember saved my life,” she said. “I was finishing my first term and campaigning for my second and it just gave me a purpose during that really tough time.”

While reading her proclamation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month during a City Council meeting, Smith became emotional.

Mayor Nancy Smith addresses a crowd of students during a mock press conference at A+ Charter School. Smith overcame a battle with breast cancer and maintains an active lifestyle. [Bryan Mordt]
“What choked me up was the part about family and friends and the support system for those with cancer,” she recalled. “They are what brought me through it. It can be a very demoralizing and depressing time, and those are the people who lift you up.

“If you have a loved one going through it, you need to be there in an uplifting way to support that patient. It’s really, really critical to their recovery. You need some motivation to keep you going.”

Knowing she was responsible to the city and its people fed her through her difficult days, she said.

“To have something that keeps you moving, that is the best thing for you,” Smith said.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed every October since 1985, was created to promote screening and prevention of the disease, which affects one in eight women in the United States every year and 2.3 million women worldwide, according to National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Known best for its pink theme color, the month includes campaigns and programs from breast-cancer advocacy organizations to local community organizations to major retailers aimed at supporting those diagnosed as well as educating the public about risk factors, stressing the importance of regular screening, starting at age 40 or an age that’s appropriate for your personal breast-cancer risk.

Smith continued to receive chemotherapy and radiation after surgery to ensure the mass was gone and the cancer was not coming back.

“That’s a huge blessing,” Smith said of her remission. “It’s very exciting every July when I pass that date on the calendar — for me, it’s July 7 — and it’s another year ticked off that I’m cancer-free.”

She holds especially precious the extra birthdays and things she has gotten to do since her diagnosis that she otherwise might have missed.

“I’ve seen both my children marry and now I have four grandbabies,” she said. “If medicine hadn’t grown and improved and they hadn’t put the efforts into research, I may not have seen those things happen.”

Smith continues to be amazed by medical breakthroughs.

“It used to be when you got a breast-cancer diagnosis it was a very serious diagnosis,” Smith said. “Now, it’s still serious, but it’s much more survivable.”

Be sure to read the November edition of InMaricopa magazine for more details.