DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. – For one U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command team member, the encouraging phrase “I am stronger than cancer” has focused her life on fighting the disease.
“These words have a true meaning for me,” stated Leslie Wilson-Smith, a logistics manager in the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command’s Competition Management Office. “They have literally changed my perspective on how destructive cancer is and how I can fight for a cure.”
Wilson-Smith was informed by her doctor on March 18, 2019, that she had an “angry and aggressive” form of stage 1 breast cancer and would need to proceed quickly with surgery, chemo therapy and radiation. The Cancer Team at Henry Ford Hospital designed an aggressive treatment plan that she credits with saving her life – at a price.
“I was robbed of the joy of living and, at times, gave up on living altogether,” she said. The realization that she had much to live for and more memories to be made with her daughter, family and friends kept her going.
“I packed my self-pity in a box and picked up my boxing gloves and began fighting.”
She was determined that cancer would not rob her of her life and living it to the fullest.
“To successfully fight an opponent, you first have to study what makes the opponent tick,” she said. “In addition to completing the cancer treatments designed by my medical team, I started looking for ways to knock cancer out.
“First, I completed a Cancer DNA- Biomarker & Genomic BRCA1 and BRCA2 Test to see if I had a higher level of getting cancer a second time (especially reoccurrence of breast cancer or ovarian cancer), or if was I carrier of the cancer mutation genes that would one day affect my daughter, sister or other females in bloodline.
“Simply knowing whether or not I was at high risk of spreading the disease to my family, made my ‘cancer fight’ even larger. Caring about saving lives beyond my daughter and sister, I committed to participating in cancer research studies that can create successful treatment outcomes for women of color, and maybe one day lead to a cure.”
She also participated in the ARISE: African American Resilience in Surviving Cancer study; a five-year, $3.1M project funded by the National Cancer Institute within the National Institutes of Health with a goal of addressing causes of health-related quality of life experienced by African American cancer survivors.
ARISE, Wilson-Smith added, is led by a team of researchers from Wayne State University and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, ARISE investigates the combined role that community, interpersonal and individual influences have on health related issues.
She also participated in the All of Us Research Program that included a diverse health database of one million people from across the United States. Participants from various ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to participate to advance research regarding biology, lifestyle and environmental effects on health, with the goal of one day finding cures and disease prevention.
“I also became a Cancer Ambassador through a partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer – Detroit, which allows me to fundraise for a cure, participate in annual walks and online seminars, and share her two-year journey of survivorship to encourage others,” she said, emphatically adding, “They too are stronger than cancer!”