In a new book, Jennifer Smith has shared the raw reality of what life is like for a woman living with stage four metastatic breast cancer.
CHAMPAIGN — Every three months, Jennifer Smith undergoes a new scan that will give her an update on a disease she calls her "own murderer."
She's talked to her 6-year-old son about death, written her own obituary and made arrangements for her ashes.
And now, in a new book, "What you Might not Know: My life as a Stage IV Cancer Patient," Smith has shared the raw reality of what life is like for a woman living with stage four metastatic breast cancer.
This book was written as a follow-up to her first book, "Learning to Live Legendary," says Smith, 36, of Champaign, and a former student services counselor at Parkland College.
The first book was a thank-you to people who helped her "truly live" with a terminal diagnosis, but she later thought it might have misled people a bit about the reality of living with a terminal illness.
Smith was first diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when she was 30.
She underwent surgery and treatments, but at her first scan in 2008 she learned the cancer had recurred in her breast and spread to her bones, and her diagnosis shifted to stage 4 cancer.
Since then, she's been on some form of treatment — including 17 different kinds of chemotherapy — Smith says.
With cancer currently in her bones and liver, she's never been in remission, she says.
"Our best hope is to slow it down and buy me some time," she adds.
In her new book, Smith writes about the anxieties before each three-month scan, and the need to create special memories now with her son.
Some moms want to go to spas for mother's day, she says, but she just wants to have fun with her son, Corbin. Mother and son just took their fifth Mother's Day trip to an amusement park, with this year's destination King's Island in Ohio.
There are chapters about grieving, believing, celebrating, coping, understanding and educating, and one called "pink-washing" focuses on the realities behind pink ribbon campaigns for breast cancer.
Friends and family members also share some reflections in this book, and Smith closes it with her "top 10" list of cancer charities "that don't have million-dollar marketing budgets" that she believes are worth supporting.
Smith says she's been preparing her son for the end of her life by sharing with him her deep faith and belief in God and heaven and the importance of living each day.
"I know once I'm in heaven, I won't want to come back," she says.
Don't tell Smith she's "battling" or "fighting" cancer, because that term doesn't fit her, she says, and she especially doesn't like the notion that dying means she lost a battle.
"Fighting and losing make it sound like I didn't do everything I could," she said.
The cover and interior layout the book were created by a Parkland College typographical class, and the picture of Smith on the cover shows her only from the shoulders down.
"I don't want my face to be the face of metastatic breast cancer," she said.
The book was written with help from Teri Fuller, an English professor and breast cancer survivor and patient advocate. It will be launched at the following four locations this month:
— 7-9 p.m. May 24 at Cream & Flutter, 114 N. Walnut St., C, featuring sparkling rose and mini cupcakes.
— 9-11 a.m. May 25 at Stephen's Family YMCA, 2501 Fields South Drive, C.
— 4-6 p.m. May 25 at Meatheads Burgers and Fries, 1305 S. Neil St., C.
— 9-11 a.m. May 26 at Faith United Methodist Church, 1719 S. Prospect Ave., C.