Learning you have breast cancer can be a shock for anyone, but for Farrah Smith, the news was especially surprising when she was diagnosed in July.
Smith, a lifelong Hall resident, is only 25 years old.
“It was gut-wrenching. Just receiving the phone call, just thinking that you’re fixing to hear, ‘it’s nothing, we’ll take care of it,’ then hearing you have cancer,” Smith said. “My gut dropped. My heart sank. It was complete and utter fear in a way that I don’t know how to describe.”
Smith has always been close with her family, who live locally, and she married her husband, Will, in October 2017. That support network has been crucial as she undergoes treatment and adjusts to her diagnosis, she said.
“It feels good to know I’m not alone. Cancer, even though I’m the one dealing with it, doesn’t affect just me,” Smith said. “It’s my entire family, my whole surroundings, it affects everything. The fact that they can face it with me in such a positive way helps me to remain positive.”
Smith learned she has Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes a predisposition to some cancers, due to a mutation in the tumor suppressor gene known as TP53. People with Li-Fraumeni have an approximately 50 percent chance of developing cancer before age 40, and up to a 90 percent chance by age 60, according to the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Association.
Not much is known about Li-Fraumeni, including exactly how many people have the condition. But it is rare, and one U.S. registry of patients suggests that 400 people have the disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Smith’s sister, Candice Malone, said part of the family’s fear is the unknown of Li-Fraumeni.
“We weren’t excited she had breast cancer, but we were glad it was breast cancer because we know so much about the research and the technology that they have,” Malone said. “We felt more comfortable with it being that.”
Jonell Barber, Smith’s mother, said the family has no history of breast cancer. They did not know about Li-Fraumeni, either, and they felt blindsided by the diagnosis, especially due to Smith’s young age.
“A 25-year-old with breast cancer? You just have a false knowledge, you think that that is a disease that older women get,” Barber said. “We definitely had our eyes opened.”
According to data from the National Institutes of Health, the risk of getting breast cancer for women under 30 is about 1 in 1,500.
Malone said younger women who are diagnosed with cancer may face unique challenges because the diagnosis comes with an abrupt lifestyle change. Her sister is more susceptible to illness due to her chemotherapy treatments, she said.
“For someone that’s young and wants to go out and wants to socialize, you can’t do that because you take the risk of getting sick,” Malone said. “She has to be very careful.”
Smith, a 2011 West Hall High School graduate, goes to the Longstreet Clinic for her treatments. She spends most of her time with her family, who are helping her through the process.
“It’s nothing more than what you allow it to be. I refuse to let it be anything other than just what it is,” Smith said.
Her husband, Will, is also staying by her side, and Smith said he is her “absolute rock.” The couple met while working together at Walmart, when Will helped her fix her broken car battery.
“If there is anything I need, he is there,” Smith said. “He doesn’t hesitate for anything. ... It’s indescribable, the kind of love that he has given me through this so far.”
Smith started working in the kitchen at Chattahoochee Country Club in February and quickly bonded with co-workers there, who she said have kept in touch and offered support.
And Barber said that while the family has been always been close, they are working to stay positive and support each other, bring them together even more. The family’s faith has also brought them strength, she said.
“This doesn’t surprise me at all with this family. We are so close anyway, and I think it’s brought us closer actually,” Barber said.
The family is also thankful that Smith found the lump and got checked. Her lump was not as firm as what is usually associated with breast cancer, and cancer was not on her mind. But just to be sure, she made an appointment for a mammogram.
Malone said the family now wants to encourage other women to be proactive in seeking treatment.
“Being an advocate for yourself is the bigger picture here. You know your body better than any doctor ever will,” Malone said. “If you feel something is different, or if you feel something is wrong, it’s up to you to get it checked.”
The family is also helping organize a ladies’ night out fundraiser on Oct. 20 to help pay for Smith’s treatments. Next year, the family wants to reach out and help another person with cancer with the fundraiser.
Smith said that while dealing with cancer has been difficult, she doesn’t want her diagnosis to define her.
“The cancer is a part of me. I’m not a part of it,” she said. “That’s something I tell myself a lot, as a reminder that I know when this journey comes to an end, it comes to a winning end regardless. I’m just looking forward to the great victory.”