Nurse says God gave her strength to overcome lymphoma

Thursday, November 26, 2009
Bernice Smith stands inside Trinity Lutheran Church in Egypt Mills. (LAURA SIMON)

The day before Thanksgiving 1984, Bernice Smith of Cape Girardeau received a diagnosis of grade four lymphoma. Smith had almost skipped her routine doctor appointment, having many preparations left for Thanksgiving, but her work supervisor encouraged her to keep it. The only symptom Smith had experienced before the diagnosis was a 10-pound weight loss, but she had been trying to lose weight and didn't think anything was wrong.

The doctor told her and her family there was little hope for survival with grade four lymphoma, the most advanced stage of the cancer. It had spread through her abdomen. The Friday after Thanksgiving, Smith had an operation to remove the cancer.

She was back to work after six weeks following the initial diagnosis, but she remained in treatment for a year. Her steroid treatments left her feeling exhausted for days. She would take an injection Friday, and by Monday she had recovered enough to be able to work.

Smith has been an orthopedic operating room nurse for 50 years, which she said is one reason she believes God gave her the courage to overcome cancer. She said she felt an outpouring of support from her co-workers in the medical community during her treatment.

Smith had always shared God's word with her patients and volunteered at her local church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Egypt Mills. She is now involved in a prayer group at her church and has attended several Relay for Life cancer walks.

"I think God had a reason for my life, which was to help people," Smith said.

As for others who are struggling with cancer, "people need to keep busy, have a positive attitude, and realizing your friends and family are supporting you is the best way to get through it," she said.

Since her cancer was diagnosed 25 years ago, Smith's husband has suffered from an aneurysm and cancer as well. But through all of this in her life, she has managed to stay positive.

"I always had faith that God would take care of us," Smith said.

Smith will be visiting her daughter, also a nurse, and two grandsons in California this Thanksgiving. She said one positive thing about the illness was that it brought her family closer together. Smith now works at Heartland Healing Specialists one day a week, giving her a chance to continue the work she feels called to do.

"I think the number of cancer survivors is growing, and includes me, my husband, as well as my two sisters," she said.

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