August 2013 started as a normal month for Toni Knox-Smith. She was spending time with her husband and her two children. Toni had her annual mammogram two months earlier and everything came back normal. Just then, while she was exercising, Toni felt a lump in her breast. She immediately went to her gynecologist who referred her to the Breast Center, part of the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center.
After having another mammogram, it was confirmed that Toni had a 3cm tumor, which was cancerous. Overwhelmed by her diagnosis, Toni and her family felt helpless, until Mary Welch, nurse navigator at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute stepped in.
“Cancer is its own language and Mary was my translator,” says Toni. “I had my first appointment with my physician to discuss treatment options and Mary was right outside the door waiting for me after the appointment. She helped me understand all of my options and walked me through each step.”
The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) offers comprehensive care, advanced technology and innovative treatment to cancer patients in a warm and caring environment. TCI provides custom and targeted integrated medicine and healing for each patient. Its goal is to empower patients, like Toni, to achieve the best quality of life by promoting wellness in mind, body and spirit.
“By providing a sense of wellness at every stage of the cancer journey a patient’s physical and emotional well-being can be improved,” says Mary. “This sense of wellness also gives them the strength to fight and beat cancer.”
Before her lumpectomy, Toni went through six rounds of chemotherapy that spanned a five-month period. After the tumor shrunk in size, Toni underwent a lumpectomy and then 33 rounds of daily radiation.
During her treatment, Toni participated in the Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer Support Group offered at TCI. At the meetings, Toni was able to connect with other women going through similar struggles.
“I was often inspired by the other women in my group,” says Toni. “Together, we worked through our cancer diagnoses.”
When her treatment was complete, Toni became a peer mentor with Women Guiding Women: Cancer Support & Education. This program pairs specially trained breast and gynecologic cancer survivors with newly diagnosed women to offer an extra layer of support.
“I knew the benefit of support from friends, family and other patients, so becoming a mentor just seemed like the next step,” says Toni.
Now cancer-free, Toni, 52, still loves spending time with her husband and children. In her spare time, she loves reading and participating in hot hula classes.
“Through the support I received at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute and from my family, I beat cancer,” says Toni. “I’m so thankful to my entire care team for their support and encouragement.”