Paris Smith: Beautiful With MS & Breast Cancer!
At age 35, Paris was already dealing with multiple sclerosis (MS) when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive cancer that affects 13 in 100,000 women each year—with Black women twice as likely to be diagnosed as white women. She discovered that “facing cancer is scary, but since I’ve been going through chemotherapy and losing my hair, I have learned to embrace my story.” Her favorite hashtag today is one she created: #BeautifulWithMSAndCancer. Paris shares her challenges with treatment, her discovery of beauty in the midst of pain, and her advice to others facing a similar journey:
"When I first found out, it took my breath away because I have no family history of breast cancer. I remember feeling the lumps and not really paying attention because there were no other signs. When the second lump popped up and it felt weird, I had a mammogram and several biopsies and, sure enough, it was the words I didn’t want to hear: You have cancer.
When my doctor first told me that Black women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with TNBC, I was like “Wow!” It stuck because, as an African American, you don’t want to hear that. I have nieces and know they have to get checked early, not only because of me but because of their race. I was saddened by that, but it also makes me more aware to let others know to get a mammogram and stay aware of any signs. I also battle multiple sclerosis (MS), which I was diagnosed with back in 2015, but I have been in remission for four years and I’m thankful for that. I was thinking, “not something else to deal with,” but I’ve conquered multiple relapses where I couldn’t even walk. So I knew if I could conquer MS, I could face this head-on like a champ. It’s crazy to stay positive, but it got me through this journey—and so has keeping my faith up".
Facing her biggest challenge: radiation
"I went through four rounds of intense chemotherapy last year, had a right breast mastectomy, and I had just finished radiation. My biggest challenge was getting through radiation. It was honestly harder than chemotherapy. I originally was to receive 30 treatments of radiation but once I found out I had residual cancer in my pectoral wall after surgery, they added more. The first couple of weeks were okay, but as the weeks went on, my skin started to burn. It was like a third-degree burn on my neck, chest, and underarm area. It was so horrible and painful.
I say it was the most challenging because it was physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. I was going every day, Monday through Friday, for eight weeks. It mostly took a toll on me mentally, just knowing weekly I was getting burned and was getting worse and worse as the weeks went on. I would lay on that table and encourage myself and tell myself it was for a good cause.
They gave me Miaderm (a lotion for radiation relief) and hydrogel packs to help with the burning. I couldn’t use aloe vera but the Miaderm worked and Tylenol and Advil together helped the pain a lot. ABD (abdominal gauze pads) pads were my best friend. I always looked in the mirror and told myself “Girl, you got this.”
After 35 rounds of intense and painful radiation, I rang the bell and that was the happiest day. I ran out of there knowing I accomplished something so hard and painful. I’m completely healed from radiation but every day, I look at my radiation area.
I lost my hair and was sick and my skin looked horrible, but I pushed through—even worked through it all. I have been blessed to have such a support system. From my family to work and my social media family, the support has been amazing".
Determination, strength, and a beautiful discovery
"Of course, this has been a difficult journey. There were times when depression set in, and I couldn’t understand why I was going through this. My determination and strength pushed me daily. Even when I lost my hair, I was sad, but I eventually embraced it and even had a photoshoot. Though this has been quite a journey, I happily share my story to possibly help someone else and let them know they can get through this.
I live by the motto I came up with: Beautiful with MS and Cancer. Despite the diseases, I am still beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. I don’t believe having an illness defines you. It makes you even more unique and beautiful, especially when you can share your story and inspire and encourage someone else.
Find beauty in the smallest things, even if it’s just the fact that you got out of bed or you smiled that day despite everything you are facing. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I am beautiful.” It took me a while to see that, but I finally realized the beauty in myself.
A lot of times you have to encourage yourself when you don’t have anyone around to encourage you and that’s the best thing to have. You will have your bad days—and that’s only human—but don’t stay there. Know that there are brighter days ahead. I find beauty in inspiring people. I still have a road ahead but I am confident that I will be holding on to my faith and trusting that all will work out. I have found beauty in life and in myself regardless of what I’m facing. I am #BeautifulWithMSAndCancer. I use that hashtag a lot because I am beautiful with or without the hair, going through chemotherapy, and whatever other challenges are ahead".