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With cancer, knowledge is power
Winona Smith, 48, and her daughter Summer Smith, 16 and a junior at Gainesville High School, pose for a picture. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Lessons learned

Here are some things Winona Smith has learned through her battle with breast cancer.

  • 1. You need to get a second opinion. Ladies, don't be afraid of "hurting" your doctor's feelings. I don't care how long he or she has been your doctor. If your doctor really cares, he or she will encourage you to seek another professional opinion.
  • 2. You do not have to wait for anything. I had this lady tell me one day during one of my chemotherapy sessions that it took her two weeks to get an MRI. NO, NO, NO! You do not have to wait two weeks for an MRI just because the scheduler at the imaging facility told you there were no other appointments available.
  • 3. Your medical records belong to you. That includes radiology reports, pathology reports, surgical reports, doctor visit notes, blood test results. You or your insurance company paid for them. Those reports belong to you! Ask for them. Keep your own records.
  • 4. Knowledge is power! Educate yourself. It doesn't take long to Google your questions and find out everything you want to know about anything. Your doctor will tell you to stay off the Internet. Do it anyway.
  • 5. Talk to other survivors. What better resource? They've been there, done that and really do have the pink T-shirt to prove it.

Read Winona Smith's blog

Give your curves some decoration: Fitness club holds breast cancer event

Cancer changes your life.

Or, in my case, breast cancer changed my life.

Mostly it changes how you view the world and makes you think about what you are going to do with the rest of your life.

My views started changing on June 21 of this year, when I found a mass on my left breast. A brush of my left arm against my breast and there it was.

I just had my yearly mammogram the Wednesday before and here it was, the following Saturday evening, and I knew the minute I touched my left breast that something was definitely wrong.

I had always bragged about how I had never missed a mammogram (not since I was 30 years old) nor had I missed a yearly gynecological checkup and Pap test. I am a teacher so I always take care of my doctor appointments during the summer months. This particular summer I was especially happy, healthy and totally not worried about anything. I was looking forward to a new teaching position with Gainesville City Schools.

I am a single mom of a 16-year-old daughter. God had been very good to us over the past few years. All was well with me and the world. I certainly never thought I would get breast cancer. Cancer, after all, is a disease that only happens to other people and their families. Not me. No way. Not ever.

But cancer did happen to me, and I had to make a lot of decisions quickly. I say "quickly" because I had my sights focused on my new job, and no matter what the diagnosis, I was going to be there when the new school year began.

I immediately started the process of educating myself. is an awesome Web site, and I read everything I could about breast cancer. You see, I was not willing to make a decision about my health without being armed with all the information I could possibly get my hands on. I mean, I studied breast cancer! I talked to survivors, I devoured the cancer Web sites. I had to know everything.

My body has been through a lot since then.

There's been surgeries, scans, chemo, etc. I didn't get to start my new job. I could already write a book about my journey and it's only been three months since I was diagnosed by the surgeon who performed the biopsies. But my individual story is not what is important here. What I hope to convey to you is a message about early detection and awareness of your health care options.

Since my diagnosis, I feel like I have been on the battlefield talking with the wounded and surviving. People see me in my bandana and they want to talk about their cancer experience.

I talk to women in the chemotherapy suite and at doctor appointments. I have a new family of survivor sisters who have gone before me into treatment for this disease. I am constantly amazed, even appalled, at the stories I hear from other women with breast cancer. At left are some lessons I've learned through my experience.

Winona Smith lives in Gainesville with her daughter, Summer. She is looking forward to returning to her teaching position at Gainesville Exploration Academy when she finishes her chemotherapy treatments. You can contact her by

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