By Brianna Lusk
October 10, 2012
It’s in the quiet moments that no one really talks about.
The moment when her husband helped shave her head.
The moment when she saw herself in the mirror after her breasts were removed.
The moment when the decision wasn’t even a question, she knew her husband wouldn’t be raising their son alone.
Often those memories are rarely talked about, but it’s the moments that built her survivorship, the pieces of her journey not only defined by the experience of living through it but fighting every minute.
Kari Smelser’s survivor story isn’t a secret. She’s shared her journey on her CarePages blog, she’s given comfort to friends and strangers at the grocery store who ask for advice, and she wasn’t one to hide her shaved head beneath a hat or wig.
“I’ve taken the experience as the reason why I’ve gone through this, so I can share my story,” Kari, 37, says. “Every time you talk about it, it gets a little easier.”
The diagnosis and heartbreak
At 35 years old, Kari was a planner. She was a passionate, busy mother whose life involved spending a lot of time with family and friends. Though getting pregnant the first time was a surprise, she was blessed to have a son Rhett whom Kari says is “headstrong and a little too smart for his own good.”
Kari’s family history of breast cancer made her precautious; she had been on top of getting mammograms ever since a lump had formed after her son was born.
“I was aware of my risk,” Kari says. “I found the lump myself.”
She had one biopsy before and it was benign, so when she found another, she wasn’t concerned. It was the fall of 2010. Before doctors would perform a biopsy, they had to ensure she wasn’t pregnant.
“I had polycystic ovary syndrome, so having my first son was a miracle. I didn’t expect to get pregnant. In my mind, I didn’t even think it was a possibility,” Kari says.
But before she went back to the hospital, she took a test.
“The hardest part is the baby,” Kari admits through the tears. “Rhett had written a letter to Santa asking for a sister or a brother. We had told him we were pregnant. We didn’t think I had cancer.”
When the tests came back and showed Kari had breast cancer, her double mastectomy was scheduled within two weeks. Though she and her husband Derek sought the opinion of several specialists of how she and the baby might make it through treatment, the question had no simple answer.
The only comfort they were given was their first miracle, Rhett.
Read more about Kari Smelser in the September/October 2012 edition of Valley Women Magazine in print or our online E-Edition
Copyright © 2013, Imperial Valley Press