• Seamstress Won’t Back Down for Ovarian Cancer

    With her tape measure draped around her neck, Diana Smock is hard at work behind a sewing machine in her Wilmington Island alterations shop. Looking at her petite frame, warm smile, and spunky blonde haircut, you’d never guess that she is waging an all-out war against cancer. But Smock doesn’t want to be labeled a cancer patient. Instead, consider her a feisty business owner, a fighter, and an inspiration.

    When Smock was 58 years old, she noticed that her stomach was expanding. At first, she thought it might be a normal part of aging. But she also felt full all the time, even if she ate very little. Smock went to her doctor. She had a sonogram, followed by a CT scan. On July 8, 2010, Smock was told that she had stage IIIc ovarian cancer. Her gynecologic oncologist was James J. Burke II at the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial University Medical Center.

    “I was sitting in Dr. Burke’s office [getting the diagnosis] and he said to me, ‘you can cry.’ But I didn’t. I said, ‘let’s operate,’” said Smock.

    She underwent an intricate surgery to remove her uterus, her ovaries, and tissue from her colon, bowel, and stomach. Burke also drained two liters of fluid from Smock’s abdomen. The fluid had built up around the tumor and was causing the full, bloated feeling. Smock spent 10 days at Memorial University Medical Center, and another two weeks recovering at home. But after that, she was ready to get back to her sewing shop.

    “I needed to go to work and stay busy. It doesn’t do any good to sit around the house and think about having cancer. I need to keep living. I’m not dead yet!” said Smock.

    At Burke’s recommendation, Smock enrolled in a clinical research trial to test a new chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer. When Burke gave her information about the possible side effects of the treatment, Smock didn’t read it.

    “I didn’t want to know the side effects or the statistics. Sometimes, the more you learn about it, the more scared you get. I never thought about dying. I thought about fighting,” said Smock.

    And so began a year-long rigorous chemotherapy regimen. When she felt sick, she took an anti-nausea pill and went to work. When she felt tired, she drank a cup of coffee and kept going. When she lost her hair, she bought wigs to wear. Throughout everything, Smock kept her shop open and kept her attitude positive.

    By the time her 60th birthday arrived, her treatment was complete. Smock’s friend, inspired by her amazing strength and determination, hosted a black-tie birthday celebration to raise funds for ovarian cancer programs. Together, they raised $52,000.

    Smock continued to work and kept her spirits up. About 10 months ago, during a follow-up visit, Burke discovered another cancerous spot on Smock’s pelvis. Once again, she qualified for a clinical trial. She became the first woman in Savannah to test the effects of a drug called pazopanib for advanced ovarian cancer. She takes three pills a day and receives low-dose chemotherapy three times a month. Smock says the treatment regimen is working because the spot on her pelvis has not spread in almost a year. She is optimistic about her future.

    “I could be on this current clinical trial long enough that they finally find a cure for my cancer,” said Smock.

    Her mantra is stay busy and don’t give up. If there is work to be done or fun to be had, Diana Smock will take care of it. She is determined to live her life on her terms, and cancer won’t get in her way.

    For more information about the clinical trials available at the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute at Memorial University Medical Center, visit memorialhealth.com/clinical-trials.aspx or call 912-350-8707.

    If you’d like to contribute to a fund to benefit ovarian cancer patients at Memorial Health, contact the Memorial Health Foundation at 912-350-6370.