When she was 24 years old, Janae Smith and her husband were at a friend’s house when she felt stabbing pains in her breast.
She wasn’t sure what it was but after performing a self examination and finding a large lump in her right breast, she went to the doctor to see what it was. A biopsy showed that it was a spindle cell tumor.
The combination of this rare type of tumor and her relatively young age brought her case in front of the medical board at Swedish Medical Center.
“My original diagnosis was bad,” the Kenmore resident said. “I did not have a chance.”
But when Smith, now 36, was told this, her thoughts for the doctors were, “You don’t know me.”
The co-founder and chief operating officer of the Kirkland-based telecommunications business Audian thought, she had done it before and she could do it again.
SURVIVING AS A CHILD
This is because when Smith was 6 years old, she was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. As a child, she went through “massive chemo” in addition to what she called the regular “cocktail” of chemotherapy. The additional chemotherapy included brain, neuro and spinal.
“I didn’t have much of a childhood,” Smith said. “I spent my childhood just trying to survive.”
She said T-cell lymphoma is very rare in children and there is a 50 percent survival rate, crediting the positive attitude she kept as how she was able to get through it all.
Doctors attributed Smith’s second round of cancer to all of the radiation she had been exposed to as a child and said the tumor had been growing for years.
Smith had a double mastectomy and because her markers were not as big as doctors originally thought, she did not have to go through chemotherapy again. And while there were many reasons to be grateful for this, one of Smith’s first thoughts was how glad she was that she wouldn’t be losing her hair again.
“Kids were very cruel,” she said, recalling her experiences with chemotherapy and losing her hair when she was younger.
SURVIVING AS AN ADULT
During her second battle with cancer, Smith’s main focus once again became just to survive. It was for this reason that it didn’t hit until afterwards, what it meant to lose both her breasts at age 24.
“You feel almost like they’re taking your womanhood,” she said.
While she was recovering from her double mastectomy, the doctor removed a drain tube and when they did, Smith said it felt like being cut by a butcher knife. She knew something wasn’t right. Initially, she was told it was just her body under a lot of stress.
But it turned out that there had been bacteria on the drain tube and the infection had become septic.
Smith went into organ failure and as doctors worked on her, she said they told her husband to be prepare for the worst. She remembers doctors running in and out of the room while she was not able to move or even speak, describing the scene as like something out of the NBC show, “ER.” Smith said she had a 105-degree fever and at one point, she thought she was going to die. But she also thought that was not how her story was going to end.
“And I’m here,” she said, once again showing how she has defied doctors’ odds.
Following this experience, doctors left Smith’s chest open for two weeks, packing it with gauze, which was changed twice a day.
STRENGTH TO DO ANYTHING
Smith has had 26 surgeries. Seventeen have been directly related to the either of her cancers — and 10 of those procedures were for her breast cancer.
Smith has also had reconstructive surgery following her double mastectomy.
“It’s a very very painful process,” she said.
After living through cancer twice by the time she reached her mid-20s, Smith said it is a huge part of who she is and where she is in her life now. But it is not all of her.
“(Cancer) doesn’t define me,” she said, adding that she knows she is strong and can get through anything.
Her experiences as a child forced her to grow up faster and see the world differently. Smith said she knows how fragile life is.
“I enjoy the smaller things in life,” she said.
RAISING AWARENESS AND FUNDS
Her most recent effort is this week as she is running a 10K to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. This is an individual run through Moon Joggers, an online running community that brings together runners from around the world and offers them opportunities to do their own runs for the cause of their choice. Smith said participants pay an entry fee and a portion goes to their charity.
Smith’s route for her run this week starts at her house in Kenmore and ends at the Caffe Ladro in downtown Kirkland.
The 10K, which is 6.2 miles, is the longest Smith has run since she had hip surgery a few years ago — another remnant of her cancers. She said she would like to do a half-marathon next year but has no intention of running a full marathon because while she often refuses to take “no” for an answer, Smith also knows her body’s limits.
In addition to raising money, Smith would also like to spread awareness about breast cancer and the importance of getting checked, especially to young women and let them know that it could happen to them. But as important as this is, Smith also acknowledged that it is not exactly something people typically look forward to.
“It’s very scary,” she said.