Survivors have stories of hope, pain after long battles with cancer

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By The Staff

HEBRON ESTATES – For 25 years, the Relay for Life has raised funding toward cancer research.


At the Bullitt County Relay, each year brings new hope for the many participating survivors and their caregivers.

Many of the survivors are now regulars, attending each year to celebrate life and to share their ongoing hope with others.

Brenda Smothers

Mount Washington resident Brenda Smothers went for her regular mammogram in 2005 when she received news every person dreads: the procedure revealed a lump in her breast.

She immediately received a core biopsy, revealing what she already suspected.

“I just knew (cancer) was what it was,” she said. “I feel like the Lord just prepared me.”

Surgeons were able to remove all the cancer. Smothers followed up with 16 weeks of chemotherapy.

The treatments were a tough experience: Smothers experienced nausea, loss of appetite, extreme tiredness and her sense of smell changed. She also lost her hair. But she said it was all worth it.

“I couldn’t tolerate sweets which I dearly love,” she said. “The thing that sustained me was tomatoes and cottage cheese.”

A four-year survivor, Smothers appreciated support from her husband, Roger, her church family and friends. She was able to share her fears and concerns as well as her triumphs.

“Don’t put off what could turn out to be life threatening,” she said. “You can never think there isn’t a chance for survival. You have to keep on going even on the days you feel bad because there will be a better day.”

Dorothy Bennett

In today’s world medical science presents many opportunities to keep cancer at bay. New medicines and early detection check-ups help regulate the spread of the disease. The world in 1975 did not have all of that.

“In ‘75 it scared me to death,” said Bennett, who admitted that “the big C” at that time usually meant the worst.

Bennett was diagnosed then with uterine cancer, but was fortunate that it was discovered early on and was still treatable.

A full quarter-century later, Bennett was diagnosed with breast cancer. Again, she was diagnosed early and survived again, this time almost a full decade.

“In 2000 I was able to cope a whole lot better,” she said. “We’ve really come a long way.”

Bennett participates in a local cancer support group. This is her third year participating in the Relay, which she called a “positive way for survivors to gather and support” one another.

“The Relay is also important in that it brings this to others’ minds,” Bennett added.

“Hopefully they’ll get a check-up early. I think the biggest thing is regular check-ups.”

Diana Allen

For seven years Mount Washington resident Diana Allen lived with a cancerous mole that didn’t catch her attention.

One day she wore a short-sleeved top to work and a friend noticed it.

“My friends told me I needed to get it checked out,” she said. “It’s in my wedding pictures and everything. I never really thought much about it.”

Allen, 31, decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist last year.

“The doctor walked in and spotted it right away. I was scared,” she said.

Allen’s mole and surrounding tissue was removed at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville. Her cancer was stage zero, the earliest and easiest to treat.

Tissue removal was Allen’s only procedure, but it convinced her to stay out of tanning beds and use plenty of sunscreen. She admitted to sunbathing regularly at a younger age, discouraging others from doing the same.

“Even with it being stage zero it was still scary,” she said. “I express my views about sunscreen to people. There’s no more laying out.”

Cancer-free for a year, Allen now makes yearly checkups with her dermatologist. She said anyone suspecting they might have any type of cancer should immediately see a doctor.

“The most you have to lose is a co-pay,” she said.

Betty Underhill and Family

The Relay is not only about awareness and support: People are encouraged to have a little fun.

Betty Underhill’s family always enjoys the event. Last year their booth implemented a “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians” theme, complete with Underhill dressed as Cruella de Ville.

Underhill, a Hillview resident, is a 10-year breast cancer survivor. Her five children took care of her throughout the ordeal, three of them participating in this year’s new Caregiver Walk.

“It’s not as important, but it’s nice,” daughter Marina Walker said of the Caregivers Walk. Having said that, Walker admitted she cried when she adorned the purple sash recognizing her as one of the caregivers.

Underhill was surrounded with family support and her experience has become a lesson to new generations as well. Attending her first Relay was Underhill’s great-granddaughter, eight-year-old Katie Miller. Also present was grandson Sean Underwood, who wrote a report about Underhill for a class at North Bullitt.

“We’ve educated into our third generation about the awareness that was needed,” said Walker. “This has educated not only just (Underhill’s) kids but the children and grandchildren, not only about this disease but all diseases. We’re educating the children more, at an earlier age.”

Underhill was able to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with the family after surviving her cancer. She remained all smiles throughout the Relay event.

Walker completed the inaugural Caregivers Walk along with her sisters, Diana Underwood and Cindy Trautwein.

“I’m going out there,” Walker said during a pre-walk thunderstorm. “I don’t care if it rains.”

Corky Miller

Shepherdsville resident Corky Miller considers the day his cancer was found a miracle.

Miller visited the doctor in 1992 for a stomach ailment. Though doctors ordered an upper GI scan, the nurse accidentally performed both an upper and lower scan.

“God bless her, she did an upper and lower scan by mistake and found a small tumor in my right kidney,” Miller said.

The malignant tumor was found on a Monday; by Friday Miller’s right kidney had been removed.

“It was small and they caught it very early,” he said.

Not knowing cancer ran in his family, Miller learned his brother, William, had the same kidney removed two years later for a similar tumor.

Miller’s wife, Jackie, helped care for her husband during recovering. She said it was tough for the family but Corky stayed strong, prayed and received support from his church family and friends.

“We prayed and lot and talked a lot. More than anything it was holding hands. We had a closeness that way,” Jackie said.

Miller hasn’t experienced any further cancer problems, but his close call motivated him to join the American Cancer Society’s fight full-force. He and Jackie started the Bullitt County Relay for Life, leading the event from 1992-2006. In that time Miller helped start almost 300 Relay events across the mid-south.

Together the Miller’s also started a cancer support group at First Baptist of Shepherdsville.

Miller felt it was imperative for cancer patients to get support and become involved in events like the Relay to remind why to fight.

“There’s great things happening every day,” he said. “You have to be positive. It’s not a death sentence. And if you think you need to get a second opinion, get a second opinion.”

Verlene and David Snyder, Bob Combest

Mount Washington resident Bob Combest had one of his best reasons for surviving cancer sitting alongside him.

That was his girlfriend, Myrtle Holthouser of Cedar Grove. The widow and widower met one another attending events at the Multi-Purpose Senior Center in Shepherdsville.

“I’ve been chasing her ever since,” Combest said.

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996, Combest has been in good health since surviving the scare. He has attended the Relay for the past 10 years,

“I’ve been going to it since they had it at Bullitt Central,” he said.

Combest and Holthouser enjoyed the Survivors Dinner with Combest’s former neighbors, Verlene and David Snyder. In many ways the couple has survived cancer.

Verlene is a two-time colon cancer survivor, coping with the disease twice since 2004. Married 51 years, David has always been there to help.

The Pioneer Village couple now celebrates their achievements at the Relay, this year marking their third event together.

“It always brings a tear to the eye when you start around that track,” Verlene said. “God gave me a second chance... two times.” Like many other survivors, Verlene stressed the importance of early cancer detection as the best prevention.

“Get check-ups and get scanned,” she said. “That’s how I found it. I almost didn’t make it the first time.”

That was when David earned his caregiver’s sash, administering daily shots to Verlene while completing cleaning and other nursing duties.

“I did it all,” he said. “I had no choice.”

“We had to learn together,” Verlene added.

David was honored as a caregiver during the Relay, but did not participate in the Caregivers Walk due to an injured back.

“I’m his caregiver now,” Verlene smiled.