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Me and the Girls: Ilene Smith


"You should never, ever feel guilty because you can't do what the other person did.  You can only do what your body tells you you can do, and not feel guilty, because this is the one time in your life, quite honestly, when it's OK to take care of yourself first and foremost."

Accepting help: "My close friends and family were wonderful," Smith says. People a little further removed were well-intentioned, saying things like, "if there's anything I can do.... "

"I'm not faulting them; they were very nice and lovely, but what would have been better is if they'd just rang my bell one day and said, 'Can I walk your dog for you this afternoon?' or 'I'm going to the store, can I get you anything?'" Smith says. "You're not going to pick up the phone and call somebody who you don't know that well to ask for help."

In trouble for laughing: Smith says she recommends that breast cancer patients "maintain a sense of humor and to allow yourself to have fun, laugh at yourself, let your friends laugh with you, let your family laugh with you. That's one thing we never stopped doing."

One time, that laughter got a little out of hand. "They had to start giving us a private room at chemo because we once got yelled at for making too much noise... we were just laughing, and some woman came over and shushed us and said her husband was sick. And I was sitting there with IVs all over me, and I'm thinking, 'Well yeah, that would make two of us.' It's again, not having control over whether you have cancer, but how you deal with it."

Her new normal: Nearly two years after her diagnosis, Smith says it's been hard finding her "new normal."

"I'm still struggling with that," she says. "The impact doesn't go away when the treatment ends." Her advice: Take the pressure off and be patient with yourself.

"It's going to take time. It may not be a few months. It may not be a year. It may take a couple of years. You've had cancer. You have to give yourself the time to absorb that afterwards."

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Reviewed on September 18, 2009

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