Living Columns & Blogs

Beaufort woman grateful she's had friends, devoted son by her side during cancer battle

Thanks to Muriel Smalley of Beaufort for sharing her story of surviving cancer as she prepared to walk in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life last Friday night at Beaufort Middle School.


By Muriel Smalley

In May 2002, I was enjoying life after being a teacher, a principal at Robert Smalls Junior High School and retiring as federal projects administrator for the Beaufort County School District.

My days were spent working in the yard, crabbing, exercising and driving friends to doctor's appointments out of town.

I was seldomly ill and felt good every day. However, I noticed that the more I ate, the more weight I lost.

A doctor's visit and numerous tests showed only a slight increase in my blood pressure. After I lost 5 pounds in a weekend, a CT scan revealed a large mass on my liver. A week later in June, my doctor informed my son Dwayne and me that I had a severe case of liver cancer and needed surgery as soon as possible.

A hospital in New York was recommended. Dwayne and I spent two weeks in the city while I was tested daily, and then we were told to return to Beaufort and that we would be called.

On Friday as we traveled home, I decided to have a serious talk with Dwayne, explaining that the hospital probably would not call and he should realize that I was going to die. At that very moment his cellphone rang. It was the hospital calling to inform us to come back to New York by Monday morning for surgery Tuesday.

Three friends, Etta Mann, LaVerne Gayles and Rexy Grayson, rushed over to empty the refrigerator and freezer, water plants and stop newspapers and the answering service while I packed clothes and notified friends of my departure. On Sunday, Dwayne and I flew to New York and my girlfriend Irene Carter came from Washington, D.C., to be with Dwayne during my surgery.

After sitting in the waiting area for nearly three hours, the decision was made to operate.

Seeing me in the recovery room with tubes and medical equipment attached to me brought uncontrollable tears and even screams from Irene and Dwayne. But through it all, I recovered and moved to a nearby hotel. Dolly Nash, a great-granddaughter of Gen. Robert Smalls, came to New York to care for me for a week while Dwayne was away.

In September, Dwayne and I began commuting from Beaufort to New York every three months for additional surgery and treatment. The Keyserling Cancer Center at Beaufort Memorial Hospital had not been built at that time.

There have been good and bad times during these past 10 years.

My feet turned black and were so swollen I couldn't walk some days. My hair came out, and my teeth had to be removed.

The long commute had its challenges. During bad weather we either sat in the airport for hours or drove as far as Washington and took the train from there to New York to keep appointments.

My worst year was 2010 when I developed shingles, which was extremely painful and lasted four months. Dwayne moved home to become my full-time caregiver.

The staff at the Keyserling Cancer Center and Beaufort Memorial Hospital provided me with superb treatment and care.

I am thankful for my wonderful life. I now work in the yard, shop and drive short distances during daylight, catch rides in Donnie Beers' golf cart, attend Doris Heard's exercise classes twice a week and socialize with the Elder Circle at Tabernacle Baptist Church. But I can't remember the names or faces of former co-workers and friends.

I am thankful for all of the people who pray for me, and I give God thanks for all of my blessings.

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