By Ian Adler
“What’s going on in her body is now a battle.”
“Mrs. Smeltzer” has become an almost household name in Red Lion. Known to some as a health teacher, and others as a source of inspiration, “The Smeltz” has recently been tasked with her newest challenge in life: cancer of the cerebellum, spinal and meningeal fluid.
“On Feburary 9, I arrived at school with a migraine,” Smeltzer said in an email interview. “Very quickly, the migraine turned into something different. The school contacted my husband and I was sent to Cancer Care.”
After several scans and imaging, a small cancer spot was found on the base of Smeltzer’s cerebellum. The medical team also tested her spinal and meningeal fluid, where several other spots were discovered.
However, this is not Smeltzer’s first run-in with cancer. On Dec. 20, 2011, just 13 days after her thirtieth birthday, Smeltzer was tested positive for triple negative breast cancer. She received various treatments, including radiation chemotherapy.
“It was completely conquerable, and I thought it was just a temporary inconvenience for her,” Ms. Heather Fogell said, a co-worker and close friend of Smeltzer. “I was scared a little bit, but I knew that breast cancer is curable.”
Along with support from her students, staff, family and friends, Smeltzer won her first bout with cancer.
“It’s just not something you would automatically ever think would happen to somebody as young as her,” Mrs. Susan Hinkle said, another co-worker and friend of Smeltzer. “It was sort of a shock and reality check to everyone, but also a “why?” Why would she have this?”
Not even two years later, on June 13, 2013, Smeltzer had learned that the cancer had metastasized (spread) to the bones in her left shoulder, left collar-bone, sternum, both hips, and a spot on her right ribs.
After hearing the news of the second diagnosis, Hinkle described her reaction as a “wind out your sails” feeling.
“I really felt for her,” Hinkle said. “I really felt her celebrating to have it behind her. You automatically think when it starts going to other parts in the body, it gets a whole lot more serious. This isn’t something that you take just care of and it goes away, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Fogell also knew that this was “now a fight for her life.”
“I know that she is a fighter,” said Fogell. “At that point, I knew that she had responded really well to chemotherapy, so I knew there was a good chance for a good prognosis.”
For both the first and second rounds of chemo, Smeltzer received her treatment at Cancer Care at Apple Hill Medical Center.
After discovery of the cancer in her spinal and meningeal fluid and also cerebellum, Smeltzer received a radiation cycle from Feb. 12 to Mar. 5. “Needless to say, it has taken it’s toll on my head,” Smeltzer said. “My hair has thinned and actually started to hurt, like when you have the flu.”
“About six days after radiation, I told John, my husband, that I wanted to buzz cut my hair again,” Smeltzer said. “Let me tell you, hair is overrated. I love my buzz cut and the looks I get! Hair will always grow back, well, unless it’s in your genes to be bald.”
As of this March, she is undergoing intrathecal treatment every other week which is injected into her spinal column. Smeltzer also takes an oral chemotherapy pill called Xeloda to help combat and control the disease.
Fogell, along with Smeltzer and Smeltzer’s mother, have began to do their own research into different treatments for patients with similar situations to Smeltzer’s. “Now it’s gotten much more serious, and it seems a lot more permanent, but my concern is that she just takes time to enjoy life for herself, in the moment,” said Fogell.
“My life has done a 180 in four years,” Smeltzer said. “(The cancer) makes me slow down and suck up the little things. It has made me realize what is important in life. It honestly has made me a better person.”
Hinkle believes one of the most difficult things for Smeltzer is her absence here at the High School. “She really cares about her job. She loves being here, she loves interacting with the students and teaching what she teaches. It fulfills her life.”
“Anytime that we have sent her any messages or pictures or anything, you can tell it keeps her going, like she’s a part of things,” Hinkle said. “She doesn’t want to be treated with sorrow, she wants you to send her the funny text messages and she doesn’t want you to treat her any different.”
“Now I’m thinking that she is an amazingly strong person. Continues, daily, to help others, to be there for others, to give for others,” Fogell said. “I am still very hopeful.”
Smeltzer’s attitude is one of the most commendable aspects of her diagnosis. “It is what it is! I don’t care what I have to do, I just want to survive.”