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Breast cancer survivor helps others

caines | 3/8/2012, 4 a.m.

Rhonda Smith says diagnosis was wake-up call

Each week during the month of March, also recognized as Womens History Month, The Miami Times will focus on one woman who has made significant contributions and proven their commitment to the Black community. Some of these women focus on health and wellness while others spend their hours devoted to justice in the political realm or improving public education. But they all have one thing in common: They are women who lead, serve and make a difference in Miami and in the U.S. each and every day. Rhonda Smith, 51, says she was content with her life, after earning a degree in civil engineering and an MBA, being a loving godmother to returnable kids and living in relative comfort. Then four years ago this May, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and faced a lumpectomy, chemo-therapy and radiation treatments. Shes now cancer free and has regained control of her life and her health. And shes on a mission to help others like her. My life changed a lot after breast cancer, she said. After the treatment was done I began to focus even more than I had before on nutrition and my lifestyle. I needed to build up the strength to exercise again and so that I would have the kind of energy I needed to get on with my life I was determined to take control. But Smith says that while there was an inordinate number of resources and infrastructures in place for those like her in treatment, she found services to assist with her recovery to be limited. That led her to found an organization called Breast Cancer Partner. Her mission is to spread the word, beyond the month of October, about breast cancer prevention and to promote the importance of early detection and mammogram screenings. Black women have a lower incidence rate of breast cancer the diagnosis for Blacks is lower, she said. But we have a higher mortality rate than other women. Part of the reason is because Black women tend to be diagnosed in later stages of the disease when it has progressed too far to overcome. Many Black women dont get mammograms because they cant afford them. Many must chose between insurance or food for their children. Early detection betters ones chance of survival. Beyond that, its important to focus on things like sexual health and wellness, exercise like yoga and changing ones diet. I used breast cancer to reinvent myself. What amazed me was that I discovered I wasnt living my life the healthiest way possible now I am. Smith has partnered with The Womens Breast Initiative, a non-profit founded by breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory and based in Miami Lakes, that focuses on access for screening to women who are uninsured or underserved by the health care system. They, along with Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Florida, will sponsor Songs in the Key of C. a music event and fundraiser on Wednesday, March 21 at the Sky Lounge at the Hard Rock Casino. For more information, go to www.breastcancerpartner.com. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com