We first published this Chambana Mom to Know article in October of 2010. I will never forget interviewing Jen over the phone. We could hardly stay on task, because it was so much more fun to talk about anything else. I was lucky to know her.
When the news of Jen’s death spread this weekend, it was not surprising, but it was shocking. How could someone so full of life be taken so soon?
We are re-publishing this today to honor Jen’s memory, and to encourage you to join us in making a donation in her memory. As she says below: “I have a strong faith and a belief that I’m going to have one amazing welcome home party when it’s time.”
How you can help:
- The family is compiling a memory book for Corbin; please send your memories and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Memorials may be directed to either the Corbin Smith Fund at First Federal Savings Bank, 1912 West Springfield Avenue, Champaign, IL 61821 or the Imerman Angels organization which provides one-to-one cancer support at 205 W. Randolph, 19th Floor, Chicago, IL 60606.
- Order Jen’s book, Living Legendary.
Jen’s obituary includes information regarding visitation and memorials this weekend. We send our deepest condolences to all who are in mourning.
– Laura Bleill
Jen Smith’s zest for life is unsurpassed. She doesn’t let her diagnosis — breast cancer, stage IV — define her. She has taken on as her mission to keep people aware that young women can — and do — get breast cancer. Smith helped to launch the Champaign-Urbana affiliate of Young Survival Coalition, a national organization for young women facing breast cancer, and is a member of its Leadership Council. A social worker by education, Smith has spent almost 10 years working with students at Parkland College. The Champaign native spends the rest of her time making memories with her son Corbin, almost 4.
See what we think Jen Smith is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: You call yourself a breast cancer warrior. Please tell us your story.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. I found my lump while nursing my 9-month-old son. After having a lumpectomy, six grueling months of chemotherapy, seven weeks of daily radiation I was told to come back in three months for a check-up. When I came back the scan showed the cancer came back and spread to four areas in my bones (two ribs, right scapula, T4 vertebrae). So I’m living with advanced breast cancer, also known as Stage IV breast cancer. There is no Stage V, so as a good friend taught me, I’m in Stage Thrive. I purposely use the term “breast cancer warrior” rather than survivor. I’ve lost too many young, beautiful, amazing friends to this unforgiving disease. They were warriors in doing everything they could to win against the battle inside their body, but they didn’t survive. I use the term warrior to show that I’m still actively fighting this disease.
Q: What does your son know about your health? Do you have any suggestions for helping kids understand cancer?
My son, Corbin, is almost 4. He is too young to remember when I first went through chemotherapy and was bald. Now I have almost weekly chemotherapy, scans, or doctors appointments but he is usually at preschool. He knows about my port (which we call my ‘button’) under my collar bone where they insert the needle for chemo. He also knows I get “magic medicine” in my “button” and that it will always be there. Thankfully the treatment I’m on right now is pretty tolerable, so his world isn’t consumed by cancer. My suggestion to other moms; you are the expert on your body, get to know it! Know what is normal for you and notice if/when things change. My only suggestion to other parents (or kids) is to talk openly about it. Children, especially young ones, don’t associate that cancer is a horrible disease. Helping them learn about it makes it less scary.
Q: You are adamant in your message that young women DO get cancer, and you are involved with the local chapter of Young Survival Coalition. Why is this organization so important to you?
My background is in social work, so when I was diagnosed my immediate reaction (besides, “what the heck just happened?!”) was to get connected with other young women who had been through this. Our first gathering had five of us. I wanted someone to show me how to do this cancer thing since it was all new to me. The online support of YSC message boards was what got me through chemotherapy. I was thrilled when we were able to become an Affiliate of YSC! Meeting other women (most are young moms) who are in the same situation makes life seem “normal”. It’s also great that our kids can interact with each other and realize that other mommies have cancer too.
Q: In spite of your battle you have an amazing outlook on life. Where do you draw your strength from?
I’m in love with my life! I joke that if I have another 50 days or another 50 years I’m going to enjoy my life…and I am! Since being diagnosed, I’ve really focused on the quality of my life…none of us are in control of the quantity. I see so many people consumed with negative emotions that they miss out on so many joys in life. I have a strong faith and a belief that I’m going to have one amazing welcome home party when it’s time. Until then, I’m truly in love with my life and making the most of it! I also have an incredible support system which keeps me going and laughing, which truly is the best medicine!!’
Q: You grew up in Champaign and are a graduate of Central High School. What did you love about growing up here that you have shared with your son?
Yep, I’m a townie and swore I’d never live here! But, now I can’t imagine living anywhere else! My family all lives here, which is great! Growing up, my extended family was in Ohio, so I am so thankful that my son gets to regularly spend time with his grandparents, aunts, and uncle. That’s the best part of living here, I’m close to my family.
Q: What does October (Breast Cancer Awareness month) – Pinktober as you call it — mean to you?
Pinktober raises awareness and money for breast cancer…but I also see the disease exploited in order for a company to make a profit. I think we’re all aware that breast cancer exists…now it’s time for a CURE.