Every first Sunday of June, cancer survivors and their loved ones celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. It’s a day to recognize the courage of cancer survivors and those who supported them along the way. You can show your support by visiting the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation.
In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day and the millions of cancer survivors across the country, we want to share the story of Kelly Smith, a cancer survivor and Appliance Expert on JustAnswer. We asked Kelly to share his experience as an Expert on JustAnswer and he opened up about his courageous journey.
JustAnswer: Tell us a little bit about your appliance background.
Kelly: When I was 9 years old, I started working for a couple who owned a secondhand appliance and furniture store. I would spend afterschool and all weekends there and mainly helped with cleaning. After a while, I became really curious with the intricacy of the appliances at the store and wanted to learn how everything worked. Luckily for me, we sold just about all types of appliances and most of them required repair, so I had a lot of opportunities to work on many different machines. I spent over twenty years there honing my skills. In 1999, I joined a service company and ran the appliance division before starting my own business in 2005.
Kelly working at a secondhand appliance store in 1984
JustAnswer: What was it like to branch off on your own and how did it lead you to JustAnswer?
Kelly: I’m a technician and not a businessman so there was a huge learning curve. In 2008, I was looking online for some information on a Bosch dishwasher and I stumbled upon JustAnswer. Within a few minutes, I had all the information I needed to complete the Bosch repair. It was a good first impression. I browsed through the appliance questions asked on the site and realized that I could answer many of them. I found the link to apply and sent in my application.
JustAnswer: It’s incredible how many Experts start out as customers. Describe your experience since becoming an Expert.
Kelly: Once I was accepted as an Expert, I would hop on in my spare time and had fun answering questions. The extra income was pretty nice, too. For the first three years, I would answer questions around service calls from my business. When the recession hit and the calls became less frequent, I put in more time on JustAnswer as I realized that my income from JustAnswer was exceeding the income from my business. After factoring in overhead costs and the stress-related to running a business, I made the decision to close my business and become a full-time Expert on JustAnswer.
My life became instantly less stressful and my schedule had no real demand. I had the freedom in deciding how my days would be spent. It was nice to be able to attend all of the school functions the kids were involved in. It was a great change of pace and worked very well for our busy family. I never looked back.
JustAnswer: It's great to hear how well JustAnswer fit into your schedule. Things were going well for you up until late 2014. Could you share with us what happened?
Kelly: On December 13, 2014, I was responding to questions on JustAnswer early in the morning. At around 10:30am, I started to feel ill and decided to rest. By 6:00pm that evening, I was in the hospital’s emergency room. Test results showed a large tumor in my liver and that discovery would forever change my perception of everything. Just a few short months before, my wife and I nearly lost our oldest daughter and her baby due to some serious birth complications.
By the following morning, I had been quarantined and diagnosed with the norovirus. In a way, I felt blessed. Had I not gotten sick with that, the tumor would not have been found and the outcome would have been very, very different. So after a few more tests, I was referred to a specialist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. As you can imagine, my thoughts were so scattered during that first week. I thought about my wife and all of the little things she would have to deal with. I found myself spending a lot of time researching liver cancer and thinking of all that I may miss. I can easily say the time I spent in quarantine was the hardest.
JustAnswer: Did you make your way to Virginia Mason immediately?
Kelly: We did make arrangements to travel and conduct more tests at Virginia Mason immediately. However, I decided to delay the trip until after Christmas in order to spend it with my wife and the kids. I am glad I did that because it was the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve ever had. We managed to keep things festive and not allow the upcoming goings to darken the mood.
Christmas with the family
In early January, I made my way to Seattle. My wife and I decided that it was best for her to stay at home with the kids and I would instead be joined by my brothers. When I arrived at Virginia Mason, I met with many doctors, including Dr. Scott Helton, an amazing surgeon and head of the liver and pancreatic surgery center. He explained that the tumor had taken up about 83% of my liver which eliminated the option of surgery. He recommended a procedure called Portal Vein Embolization which attempts to fool the liver into regenerating by cutting the blood supply to the “bad side” and allowing the good part to grow. The procedure was performed soon after.
JustAnswer: How did the procedure go?
Kelly: The next few weeks flew by. When I had a scan to see if the procedure worked, it was welcome news that the “good liver” was calculated to be near 25%. At this point, the doctors decided it was time to have the tumor removal surgery. They scheduled it for February 6th, 2015.
The night before my surgery, my brothers and I went out to dinner and just enjoyed each other’s company. It was very calming and helped keep our minds away from the uncertainty ahead. I was prepped for surgery the next morning and after 9 ½ hours, I remember waking up in my room. Dr. Helton had gotten the entire tumor removed without complications and my road to recovery has started.
JustAnswer: We’re so happy to hear that it was a successful surgery. How did you feel afterward?
Kelly: The day after the surgery, I could see the large incision mark left from the procedure. Dr. Helton and I talked about the entire surgical procedure and he explained everything that he did. He even shared some photos of the surgery to help me understand what was done. He is one of a kind and I can never repay him. I spent 6 days in the hospital and an additional 4 days in a hotel until my final checkup. Once everything checked out, I was ready to head home.
Kelly and Dr. Scott Helton
My homecoming was very emotional. I still remember coming down the escalator and seeing my wife, kids, granddaughter, and surrogate parents for the first time post-surgery. It was a joyous moment.
It took a month or so to get any strength and energy back and I was told that it would be about 8-12 months before I would start to feel normal again.
JustAnswer: How have you re-introduced some sense of normalcy back into your routine?
Kelly: As I began to gain some strength back, one of the first things I did was work on JustAnswer. It was an easy routine to start again because I was able to work as much as I was physically able to. I have been able to take my time and work back up to normal (for me) schedule and have felt blessed to have that flexibility. The opportunity is there for me to work as much as necessary to recover from losing roughly 4 months of income.
JustAnswer: Thank you for thinking of us and coming back after such an ordeal. How are you today and what are you looking forward to most?
Kelly: It has been 16 months since the surgery and I still have some struggles with a few things but for the most part, I am doing pretty well. I still have regular scans and tests every 90 days for the next couple years, but we are hopeful that the surgery was completely curative. The emotional recovery is just as difficult, maybe more than the physical recovery. I really appreciate the little things that were often overlooked before.
Kelly and his family
I look forward to losing the fear of what each new test or scan may reveal. I also look forward to getting back to a normal life, which may require just adapting to a “new normal.” I hope to spend many more years watching my kids and grandbaby grow. There is so much to see that I don’t think there will ever be enough time. I hope to learn to not take a single day for granted.
We want to thank Kelly for opening up about his story. We wish him all the best as he continues his road to recovery. You can read more about Kelly's cancer survivor story by visiting the Virginia Mason website.