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Marina’s 'fall festival' event to benefit businesswoman in battling cancer

POSTED: October 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.
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Lesli Smith, a local real estate agent and co-owner of Lake Lanier Lodges Log Cabin and Boat Rentals, is battling an aggressive form of cancer and has been receiving treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

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Business leaders all around Lake Lanier are pulling together to help one of their own.

A fundraiser is scheduled Saturday at Aqualand Marina to benefit Lesli Smith, a local real estate agent and co-owner of Lake Lanier Lodges Log Cabin and Boat Rentals.

Smith is battling an aggressive form of cancer and has been receiving treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Proceeds from the fundraiser will help pay for her medical and travel expenses.

The event, titled "Eats, Beats & Boats," will take place from noon to 6 p.m. at the marina on Lights Ferry Road. Admission is $5 or free to Aqualand members. Tickets for individual activities, such as a cakewalk and hayride, are $2.

Entertainment will be provided by the band Riverside. There also will be a boat show, raffle, silent auction, crafts and tasting booths from local restaurants.

"We’ll have tons of kids’ activities, including face painting, pumpkin painting, paintball and a big fire pit for making s’mores," said Teresa Smith, a Realtor who worked with Lesli Smith at the Keller Williams real estate firm. "We’ll have a lot of nice prizes that were donated by local businesses."

She said volunteers have been posting fliers all over the area to publicize the event. "So many people have stepped up to the plate and hit the streets," she said.

She said Lesli Smith is very popular among the lake community.

"She is a wonderful woman," Teresa Smith said, "She’s more worried about other people than she is about herself. And she has the most positive family you could ever hope to meet."

She said Lesli Smith’s illness couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Lakeside businesses already have been struggling with the drought, record low lake levels and the sinking economy.

"Not many people are making (boat and cabin) rentals, so (the Smiths) don’t have much money coming in," said Teresa Smith, who is not related to Lesli Smith.

Len Jernigan, general manager of Aqualand Marina, said the family is well known to marina members because their boat rental business is on the property and their cabins are just outside of it.

He said some people did not know Lesli Smith was ill until they saw the fliers.

"Despite the economic times and everything else, everyone has reached down deep and is stepping forward," he said. "Somebody came to me and asked if Aqualand could help, and I said, ‘Why don’t we just have (the event) here?"

Jernigan said the lake’s low level should have no effect on the fundraiser.

"It’s not a water-related event," he said. "It’s almost like a fall festival."

He’s hoping for a good turnout because the community always seems to rally around those in need.

"No matter how bad we think we’ve got it, somebody else always has it worse," Jernigan said. "(The Smiths) are self-employed, so when it comes to insurance, that’s borne entirely by them. And they’ve got the travel expenses, going back and forth to Houston. It’s just been very hard on them."

J. Smith, Lesli’s husband, said his wife was 44 and "extremely healthy" when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in March 2007.

Inflammatory breast cancer is rare, comprising less than 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. It’s almost always misdiagnosed at first, because there’s not a typical lump in the breast. Instead, the skin of the breast becomes red, swollen and painful.

Doctors usually assume it’s an infection, and they generally don’t consider cancer as a possibility until a couple rounds of antibiotics have had no effect.

Once they realize it’s inflammatory breast cancer, treatment needs to begin immediately.

"It’s very rare but very aggressive," said J. Smith. "A lot of doctors don’t know how to treat it."

He said they weren’t able to find a doctor in the Atlanta area who specializes in this type of cancer, so they went to M.D. Anderson.

"We had hoped she could be treated locally, to stay close to our girls," he said.

The Smiths have two daughters, ages 9 and 14.

Lesli Smith first was given chemotherapy, to suppress the cancer, before undergoing a radical mastectomy in December 2007. She then received radiation treatment last spring.

"Her three-month checkup was great," said J. Smith. "Then she started having headaches."

Her six-month checkup revealed that the cancer had spread to her brain. Surgeons removed two tumors last month. A third tumor was inoperable, so it was treated with radiation.

Smith is recuperating at home now, and her husband said the family is happy to have her back.

"She’s an amazing lady. It kills me not to be with her," J. Smith said. "I’ve been trying to just keep things together with the girls and live a normal life."

He said the family is humbled and grateful for the effort being put into the fundraiser.

"It’s incredible how people are helping out," he said.



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