March 2016 Survivor of the Month – Hazel Smith

03-hazel-smith-survivor-march-2016The Hopeful Gardner

Hazel Smith’s Story by Robert McNamara


Throughout her life, Hazel Smith has enjoyed many things.  She likes cooking and traveling, spending time with her family, and of course, working in her garden.  If there is one thing that the hours digging in the dirt have taught her, it is that the seeds that are planted today are the blooms that will be cherished tomorrow.  Throughout her life, she has planted much more than seeds.  She has relationships with her patients at work and a supportive family at church, she has three children whom she adores, and grandchildren who make her smile.  In 2013, Hazel was diagnosed with breast cancer and in those first terrifying moments, she would plant seeds of hope that would one day flower into blossoms of survivorship.

For Hazel, the shock of such an unexpected diagnosis was difficult to bear.  “I was very depressed when I received the report that I had breast cancer.   I felt like my life was over, and I just shut down.  I just wanted to be left alone.”  In addition to the challenges she would face with a rigorous treatment schedule, Hazel would also have to accept the disappointment of having to leave a job that she enjoyed.  “I was… working at the Habersham Retirement Home.  I was a Certified Nurse Assistance and Medical Tech.  I enjoyed taking care of my patients, and making sure that their needs were met.  I stopped working six months after I was diagnosed, to focus on my treatments.”

In moments of despair, it is important to find support wherever it can be found.  For Hazel, she would learn to lean on her families at home and at her church to find strength.  “I overcame this depression through the support of my children.  They encouraged me that life was not over, and I still had many years ahead of me.  I do not know how I could have made it without my daughter… and two sons.  I also had the support of my church family.”

The story of a survivor’s journey is not about the number of needle sticks they receive or an accounting of numerous treatments along the way.  It is ultimately the story of a person who faced immense challenges, but somehow found the strength to overcome them.  Like the plants in Hazel’s garden, sometimes people grow not because they were blessed with constant sunshine, but because they were also able to weather the storms.  The worst of these storms behind her, Hazel is able to appreciate the blessings in her life with a new perspective.  “The journey I have gone through with breast cancer makes me see life in a totally different perspective.  I enjoy every minute of my life and I am thankful for every day.”

Since her recovery, Hazel has learned to connect with both fellow survivors as well as current breast cancer patients through Susan G. Komen.  “Komen has developed a ‘Race for the Cure,’ which has allowed me to meet women who are fighting the same battle as I was.  I have developed a sisterhood with these ladies, and we provide moral support for each other.  This gives me a chance to let newly diagnosed women know that breast cancer is not a death sentence.  I can tell them my life story and state, ‘Look at me now.”

Hazel, this hopeful gardener, has emerged from her fight with breast cancer with a sense of optimism and gratitude that she hopes will help to inspire others.  Though she has seen dark places in her journey, Hazel has risen brighter, stronger, and more vibrant than ever.   “I appreciate the sunshine on my face.  I only focus on the positive.  Even if there is some negativity in my life, I always look for the positive.  I try to wear a smile every day, to brighten someone else day.  We all face different journeys, and I may be a help to others by just giving them a smile.”

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