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Dover Post
  • Longtime couple confronts breast cancer together

  • Husband and wife Mike and Sarah Smith have both survived the same type of breast cancer. They are now helping out to inform the community.
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    • Check out this week's print edition of the Dover Post for the Paint It All Pink breast cancer awareness section.
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      Check out this week's print edition of the Dover Post for the Paint It All Pink breast cancer awareness section.
  • Mike Smith and his wife Sarah were fishing one day in 2003 when Sarah reeled in the biggest fish of the day. Mike wrapped his arms around his wife and lifted her off the ground in a hug of congratulation. That's when Mike felt a sudden pain on his chest. A few days later he had doctor check out a lump on the right side of his chest. The doctor assumed that it was a cyst. However, surgery and a biopsy revealed something much more serious. Mike had breast cancer.
    A range of emotions quickly overtook him.
    "I went from numbness after finding out I had cancer, to trying to understand why I had breast cancer, to hoping that it wasn't going to take my life," he said.
    Nine years later, in March of 2012, he and Sarah relived the shock and disbelief when the couple, who had shared more than 40 years of marriage, found that they would also be sharing a breast cancer diagnosis. Sarah went in for her regular mammogram and her doctor detected a shadow. As she continued to undergo regular mammograms the shadow grew larger and larger. It was cancer.
    Mike and Sarah had the same type of breast cancer, on the same side of their body and underwent the same treatment, surgery, mastectomy and five years of taking the drug Tamoxifen.
    Sarah also underwent reconstructive surgery. Mike had 19 lymph nodes removed and Sarah had one removed.
    "When she was diagnosed it was a really big shock," Mike said. "We never thought cancer would come back in the household, especially not the exact same type."
    In dealing with their disease Mike and Sarah came up against different obstacles. Mike was dealing with the rarity of being a man with breast cancer.
    "It was odd being a male with breast cancer, but I wasn't the first man with breast cancer," he said. "It's just not talked about as often because it [affects] about one percent, which seems minute, unless you're the one."
    Mike was mentored by a fellow male breast cancer survivor and has since gone on to mentor other men through their struggle with the disease.
    Sarah dealt with a different issue, a physical one. After undergoing a mastectomy Sarah had to process a change to her physical appearance.
    "When I get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, my breasts don't look the same and I think to myself 'I had cancer,'" Sarah said. "It can be in the back of your head all the time, but I talk to my husband about it and he tells me I look fine."
    Despite the hardship of suffering through two cancer diagnoses, the Smiths found comfort in each other.
    Page 2 of 2 - "We could converse about it because both went through the same thing," Mike said. "This is what got us through."
    Today they are both cancer free. After beating the disease, the Smiths took on a "live life to its fullest attitude," Mike said.
    "When people are talking about cancer and they're talking about you in the same breath it makes you say 'let's go for it, let's live for it,'" he said. "So we travel, we will jump a jet in a minute. We hit the world running."
    There is a trip to Thailand, Sarah's native home, and a trip to Europe in the couple's near future. They've also spent time in Australia and Hawaii, on top of the regular day trips they take.
    The Smiths have also found a way to try and improve the lives of others. They're both members of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and volunteer their time to bring awareness to both men and women about breast cancer, Mike said.
    "We try to assist in getting the word out, to males and females, about how to cope with breast cancer and how to get access to medical care," he said.
    The couple also helps in various breast cancer fundraisers. They've sold T-shirts, served as guest speakers and posed for calendars, Mike has even strutted the cat walk at a Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition fashion show.
    Breast cancer awareness is something that the Smiths take just a seriously at home as they do in their work with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, Sarah said.
    "With my daughters and granddaughters, we're on them all the time," Sarah said. "We tell them 'make sure you go to the doctor and check yourself.'"
    The conversation isn't limited to the female side of the family. Mike makes sure that he reminds his grandsons and his daughter's husbands to check themselves as well.
    One thing that the Smiths make very clear is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence, Mike said.
    "Breast cancer is not a death certificate for all," he said. "There can be life after breast cancer."
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