When Anita Smith, 63, was diagnosed with stage three, triple-negative breast cancer on May 9, 2011, she wasn't surprised and she didn't panic.
"It didn't surprise me. When they found the lump and did the mammogram, it was pretty obvious it was cancer. It was one of those things where I was like, "What do I do now?'" Smith said.
"I wasn't too panicked because I know there's a lot of support and I know that I'm strong," she said.
In December, doctors officially pronounced Smith's cancer in remission. She's currently in a clinical trial to keep the disease from returning, and she said she feels active and energetic again.
Energetic enough to not only participate in, but lead South Lake Tahoe's seventh Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that will take place Aug. 11. Smith and her two grandchildren, Chase Kalik-Houston, 14, and Jenna Kalik, 8, will open the ceremonies at the Kahle Community Center and spend the day selling cookies and comic books.
Smith said she wants to give back to the community that helped see her through a year of therapy that had her driving to Carson City five days per week for radiation and north to Truckee for chemotherapy.
"The kids were my support system, and the community did a lot. They helped me. Me and the kids decided it was time to give back. Grandma feels better now, so we're out there trying to raise money and help other people get better, become survivors," she said.
Smith moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1985 and currently works for the California Conservation Corps and BlueGo. When she was sick, she said she was amazed at how open and caring people were, even if it was just a few words exchanged in a grocery checkout line.
But she also said that there are no official support groups in the area for cancer patients, something she hopes might change with the Relay for Life.
"There are a lot of people to help you when you're sick, but there's not a lot of communication between cancer patients and survivors. We need to find each other. I hope everyone shows up (to the Relay) and we can start supporting each other," Smith said.
For Jo Ann Costanza, South Lake Tahoe Relay for Life committee member, involving cancer survivors like Smith in the Relay is key. The relays always include a survivors lap at the beginning of the event, where cancer survivors do a lap together.
According to the American Cancer Society's website, the nonprofit organization's nationwide relay events have raised $4.2 billion since 1985. South Lake Tahoe's contribution hovered at about $4,000 per week before the event, with 27 participants and seven teams.
Melissa Reed, an ACS community relations manager, said the goal is to get a couple hundred participants for the relay. There's still a long way to go, but she said the South Shore event has been successful in the past.
"We're really excited to have it (in South Lake Tahoe) again. The community really does rally around it," Reed said.
For more information, visit www.cancer.org.