When Juliet Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2018, her life was already in a state of flux. She was recently divorced after 20 years of marriage and had begun a master’s degree program in health-care administration when an annual mammogram found malignant cells, upending things even more for her.
“I was getting my new normal [started], and then got hit with cancer,” she said.
Smith’s friends and family quickly rallied around her, bringing her to doctor appointments and making sure that her two sons, ages 11 and 14, were looked after. After Smith had a preventive double-mastectomy in July, her brother flew in from Miami to help care for her, cooking meals and taking calls with the plastic surgeon. All of her other family members live in Trinidad, making his stay all the more meaningful.
In August, she met with Dr. Karen Smith (who coincidentally has the same last name), a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital. They talked about chemotherapy options, and about how to manage everyday life during treatment. It was all terrifying and confusing for Smith. Typically outgoing and outspoken, she recalls going silent when she first found out what was ahead of her.
But, along with her friends and family, the staff and programs at Sibley got her through it, from her therapist, Jacqueline Buschmann, who helped Smith deal with her depression, to a chemotherapy class that motivated her to focus on nutrition. At Sibley, “It’s not just a doctor [that treats you,] it’s a unified movement,” Smith said. “I’m very grateful for that staff.”
Since finishing chemotherapy, Smith has undergone reconstructive breast surgery, which she calls a “silver lining” amid all of the difficult parts of her cancer treatment. She’ll take daily hormonal treatment for the next five years, and she’s resumed her studies at the University of Maryland University College. Another silver lining, she said, was getting to spend a month observing the operations manager at Sibley, as part of her master’s degree. “The patients were so ecstatic that they had someone who’s been through cancer on the floor,” Smith said.
And, while the risk of recurrence never goes away completely, Smith’s doctors are optimistic.“With our great therapies, the vast majority of breast cancer survivors never have a recurrence,” said Dr. Smith.