Son Thomas / Daughter Lauren / Wife of 43 Years Barbara / 69 years old / Diagnosed at age 61 / Mountain biking, hiking, traveling, spending time at the lake and the mountains / Clemson Graduate
“I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way”
To say cancer has impacted Tommy Smith’s life would be an understatement.
“My mother died of lung cancer when she was 70,” said Smith.
“My younger brother and younger sister both died of lung cancer. My sister was diagnosed three months after my brother died. Three months after that, I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.”
“But even with everything I’ve been through, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The Kindness Has Been Overwhelming
Tommy Smith is a Greenville native and one of the founding partners of the Jervey Eye Group, a leading provider of advanced comprehensive eye care services in Upstate, South Carolina. Having co-founded the successful practice in the 1990s here in Greenville, Smith had an opportunity to engage with a unique population of patients as his practice grew.
“Before my cancer diagnosis, I had no idea how many lives I would have had the opportunity to touch throughout the years,” said Smith.
“I was always mindful of my opportunity to be kind to others and applied that to my professional life. My mission was to convey kindness and truly care for my patients. I never underestimated how important it was to be kind.”
“Little did I know that I was paying it forward, and it would come back to benefit me tenfold.”
“When word got out about my cancer diagnosis, the outpouring of support was tremendous. There was so much faith and support. I never had the opportunity to be afraid or think negatively. The kindness was overwhelming.”
Smith noticed a small skin lesion on his shoulder in mid-2015. He visited his dermatologist and had it biopsied. It was determined to be benign at that time.
Three weeks later, he developed a golf ball-sized growth in his neck. He learned he had an aggressive form of metastatic melanoma. The initial lesion had led to three metastatic sites in his neck, chest, and back.
“If you know me, then you know I’ve got a ‘bring it on’ attitude. When I was a kid, I swam competitively. I worked out every day before school. I enjoy road and mountain biking and have participated in several endurance events. When I got sick, I had been attending a cardio/cross-fit class and cycling a good bit.” I attribute a lot of my ability to endure cancer to my good physical condition.”
“I’m not afraid of a challenge and applied that same outlook to my cancer diagnosis.”
Smith’s treatment included two emerging immunotherapy drugs.
“At the time, they had been used independently, but not in combination as two separate back-to-back infusions. My oncologist, an absolutely wonderful man, decided that this path, while aggressive to combine the two treatments, was best for me.”
He had numerous challenging reactions while in treatment, resulting in visits to the ER and hospital stays. Because of these unfamiliar side effects, and at the suggestion of his local oncologist, he sought the input and opinions of some of the best minds in cancer research at a larger institution. “My oncologist there, an absolutely wonderful woman, confirmed that these effects were immunotherapy related.”
“These two physicians truly saved my life in different ways at different times. In fact, three years later, I learned the two scientists, from separate research centers, responsible for these new drugs co-shared the Nobel Peace Prize in medicine.”
“How blessed am I?”
A New Reality Made Better By Cancer Survivors Park
The cancer medicine wiped out his adrenal function. His body doesn’t produce energy hormones in response to physical exertion or stress. He does this with meds that mimic these hormones. For a workout junkie, this could seem like a recipe for depression. Not so.
“I used to ride with a great group of guys every Tuesday evening. My son and I used to ride a lot together. It doesn’t get any better than that. I can’t keep up like I used to anymore, but the motivation remains. My son talked me into getting an e-bike, which has helped tremendously.”
If there’s an official clean-up day in Cancer Survivors Park, you can count on Smith being there……in his melanoma hat.
“You walk, bike into this place. It’s just so peaceful. So calm. It’s like pulling into your driveway at the lake at the start of the weekend. It’s that feeling of serenity.”
“Giving back seems natural for me now, and I want to take advantage of all the opportunities at CSP. Sharing with other cancer patients at CSP is extremely therapeutic. And to do so while being active in such a beautiful place, it’s very special. CSP is the venue that brings us together.”
What It Means To Be A Survivor
“I never get tired of being told or talking about being a cancer survivor. My mother. My sister. My brother. They didn’t make it to this point. I’m their survivor.”
Smith still gets full body scans every six months. He has the lifelong conditions he’s learned to deal with. Save for a few minor setbacks, Smith has been cancer free for almost seven years.
“I’m proud to be a survivor. I’m so thankful. The support from my staff, friends, and family played a huge role in my healing.”
“Numerous times, I would receive a card with a bible verse. It was amazing how these verses seemed written just for me.”
Smith considers his cancer experience the life lesson of his life
“Who says they’ve been blessed to have cancer? It’s a stretch! Every single one of the trials, tribulations, and challenges I’ve encountered has a lesson. Whether it has to do with how to live or love or appreciate or how much it means to have the Lord go on this journey with you, the lessons are real. That’s the blessing of cancer.”
Story by Michael McCullough
Photo by Sliced Tomato Productions