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It was the day before Mother’s Day 2018 when Scott Smith faced the biggest test of his faith.

“The excruciating pain in my lower back wrapped around my body. It was unbearable,” he said as he recalled the scary moment when his wife told him to drop everything and go to the emergency room.

Smith had been dealing with back pain for several months but put off going to the doctor until he could no longer take it. The trip to the ER uncovered a large tumor near his lower back, as well as several smaller masses. He was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center where doctors diagnosed him with paraganglioma, a rare tumor that forms outside the adrenal glands and impacts only one in a million people.

According to the National Cancer Institute Paraganglioma is a rare, usually benign tumor that develops from cells of the paraganglia. Paraganglia are a collection of cells that came from embryonic nervous tissue, and are found near the adrenal glands and some blood vessels and nerves.

Smith was concerned about how the diagnosis would impact his wife and children. Fear briefly overcame him, but as a man of great faith, his spirit strengthened when he chose to pray over his new reality.

Surgery was never an option. The tumors had wrapped around his aorta. Surgery could cause paralysis, infection or a tremendous amount of blood loss, so Smith began chemotherapy. Unfortunately he lost his energy and could no longer enjoy many family activities, like hitting baseballs in the backyard, swimming in the pool or jumping on their trampoline.  There were many times Smith was so tired, he couldn’t get out of his chair. But he was determined not to let the chemo side effects keep him from doing what he loved.

He and his wife decided to alter some of their traditional household rules. As an avid baseball fan, Smith now encourages his kids to play catch with him inside the house. “Throwing the ball brings us joy and sometimes an occasional broken object, but we will not allow cancer to rob us of these memories spending time together,” Smith insists.

Having cancer and small children is uncharted territory for the Smith family. His advice to other families who may one day be faced with a cancer diagnosis is to share the news over ice cream. “It’s hard to be sad over ice cream,” Smith says. “Let your kids know life is going to change, but what challenges lie ahead, we can face them together. If you dwell on the negativity of life too long, your ice cream melts.”

Smith is optimistic as he continues treatment. Chemotherapy has caused his tumors to shrink in half. He also credits the Tampa Bay Rays with keeping his spirits up.

Scott Smith with his wife.

On June 29, Smith participated in a VIP experience at Tropicana Field when the Rays honored him through Salute to Survivors presented by Moffitt Cancer Center. Rays baseball has been a source of encouragement for the Smith family, who enjoy watching games together.

“Just as the Rays ‘Rays Up,’ I, too, will raise up.”