VINEMONT, Ala. – Wendy Smithson wasn’t prepared for what fall 2022 would look like when her son, and then her husband, were diagnosed with different types of cancer, two months apart.
“My son, Walker Smithson, was diagnosed Sept 2, 2022, with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic (also called lymphocytic) Leukemia, and my husband, DJ Smithson, was diagnosed November 2, 2022, with Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma,” Smithson said. “Walker was more tired than normal for a couple of weeks, but I thought he was just tired in the afternoons because it was the beginning of a new school year. He slept more than usual. He also had a large, unexplained bruise on his leg, but we realized we needed to get him to the doctor when he developed an irritated, swollen lymph node under his armpit.”
Smithson said her husband’s condition was found because he had a knot appear on the lower part of his neck about eight months ago.
“He went to the doctor, and they performed a biopsy, but it was benign,” she said. “They gave him the option to remove it, but he decided not to have it removed since it wasn’t really bothering him and wasn’t cancerous. As time went on, he began to have trouble breathing. The mass had grown and was pushing against his trachea. He had the mass removed, and they sent it to a pathology lab to be tested. He will soon go for a PET scan to see if the cancer has spread to other places. This type of cancer is known to move from the thyroid to the lungs. Either way, it is our understanding, at the moment, that he will need chemo also.”
Smithson said that through it all, she has continued to pray and her faith has not wavered. She said she believes the Lord is fighting for her family.
“With all things considered, we are doing well. Our faith is strong, and we have no doubt the Lord is going to bring us through this season just like He has every other trial we have faced,” she said. “We definitely have moments where we feel overwhelmed, heartbroken, anxious and exhausted, but we have not lost hope. We are still trying to find our new normal. We are taking things day by day and sometimes minute by minute. The amount of support from our community and surrounding communities has been amazing. We are grateful that so many others have joined us on our journey. We can feel the prayers, and it has made our challenging situation a little brighter.”
Smithson shared some personal advice she would give to someone else who might be fighting a similar battle, or anything that causes grief and pain.
“At the beginning of our journey we were advised by a family who had been through a similar situation to learn to say, ‘no.’ A lot of people want to visit or help by taking Walker to the clinic, but with Walker having no immune system, we cannot allow him to be around just anyone,” she said. “With him being a minor, consent forms have to be signed each time we are at the clinic by a parent or legal guardian, so it isn’t as easy as people may think to just let him ride with a friend or even another family member. There is a lot of paperwork involved for another individual to be able to sign for blood, platelets, spinal taps, etc. As much as we don’t like it and don’t want to hurt feelings, we have had to say ‘no’ at times because it is simply not in the best interest of our son.”
Smithson said it’s important to let people love you.
“If I were personally giving advice to people going through this, I would tell them to let people love on them,” she said. “It is difficult to be the ones in need, but we have to be careful not to have too much pride and let folks give whatever they want to give and help where they can. My husband and I are givers by nature. We tithe; we donate to different charities or athletic groups, etc., but it is hard to be on the receiving end. We feel guilty knowing there are other families who are worse off than we are. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Having said that, if we don’t let others love on us, we are taking a blessing away from them and we don’t want to do that either.”
Her last piece of advice is simple: we don’t know when our last day on Earth is, so pick your battles because the little things matter.
“Our time here on Earth is fleeting, so make sure whatever arguments they have are worth it –ask if it will even matter a year from now,” she said. “I would tell people not to be afraid to ask for help if they need it. I would also advise folks to pick their battles. Life is so short. When I start feeling overwhelmed, I immediately send my prayer warriors a quick text to tell them to lift me up or pray specifically about a certain situation. Last, I would tell them to be kind to others even when they don’t feel like it. I have learned that we have no idea what the person at the red light next to us or the person behind us in the drive-thru is going through. We should pay it forward. Pay for the person’s meal in line behind us. Make someone else’s day when we get the opportunity even if we feel like our own world is falling apart. The little things matter in life. We should never lose sight of the little things while on the journey. By definition, a journey is a ‘long and often difficult process of personal change and development.’ The sooner we realize and accept the road ahead will be long, but we have God to walk us or carry us through, the better off we will be.”
Smithson said hers is just your average family that is dealing with extraordinary circumstances.
“Our daughter is a nurse. She recently got married and lives in Madison,” she said. “I teach eighth grade at Oneonta Middle School and my husband owns Cullman Truck Sales. We have worked very hard for everything we have. We recently opened our personal property to the public. The Forty Acre Wood is a fun place for folks of all ages. We have lots of trails and two creeks for kids to come explore and see if they can find Bigfoot! Our home and land is our haven. God has blessed us in so many ways and I hope we never take these blessings for granted or forget where we came from.”
Those who feel led to donate to the Smithson family can do so at https://gofund.me/e05fc3df, @Wendy-Smithson (Venmo) or @wendysmithson (PayPal).