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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Me and the Girls: Ilene Smith


"I'm the type of person who likes to be in control over my life," Smith says. "When you have cancer, it's very easy to feel that you don't have control over what's happening to you. And the mantra that I said to myself throughout the whole process was, 'I don't have control over whether or not I have cancer; I do have control over how I deal with it' ...I would advise people to really look at all their options and not just move forward in a vacuum."

No comparisons: During her treatment, Smith says she felt frustrated when she heard about women accomplishing impressive feats while dealing with breast cancer. "The basic fact of the matter is dealing with breast cancer itself is hard enough," Smith says. "You do want to maintain a sense of normalcy, but it's OK to say you can't do something because you don't feel well enough... You don't have to be a hero."

"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."

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