An Excelsior Springs community member recalls raising children and teaching through the worst years of her life — battling cancer.
Misty Smith moved to Excelsior Springs in fifth grade and began enjoying it almost immediately.
“I’ve lived in Excelsior for 31 years,” Smith said. “I say that I’m a lifer to Excelsior because this is where I think I’ll always be.”
Smith became a mother 24 years ago when she gave birth to her oldest Jordan, a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University. Her youngest Josie came along 11 years ago and currently attends Westview.
Smith said her life revolves around teaching. Smith began teaching at Westview Elementary 18 years ago. Smith currently teaches third grade and has for the majority of her career. Smith taught fourth grade for three years.
“I think third and fourth grade are my loves,” Smith said. “I hope I retire (teaching) third grade.”
Smith said teaching will always be her passion. She said the kids make everything worth it. She works to build community within her classroom. Smith said the most important part of teaching involves teaching the students to be good people. She takes about two weeks out of the beginning of the school year to help her students learn to be kind to each other.
“I have been blessed over the past 18 years to have the most amazing families, great students and amazing teacher to work with,” Smith said. “I always teach my students kindness. If you teach that first, you build that foundation, academics will come easier.”
Smith said she does acknowledge the hard parts of teaching. She said she finds dealing with the state mandates and long hours to be the most difficult part.
Smith said another hard part of teaching is worrying about the kids, about how they’re doing, especially when she misses school.
Smith found it especially hard when she started doing chemo treatments during the school year. She said it became a hard year for her, not just because of chemo, but because she missed so much school. She said she tried her best to be with her class as much as possible.
“At first I was like ‘I have chemo Thursday, take off Friday, be back on Monday.’ And that worked for about a week,” Smith said. “I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and I was really lucky to have the same sub throughout my entire time off.”
Smith received her radiation treatments the summer after her chemo and taught summer school while getting those treatments as well. Smith said her parents and students proved to be “super supportive” that year.
She said the entire Excelsior Springs community was such a support and a blessing.
When doctors diagnosed Smith with breast cancer on November 22, 2011, at the age of 35, it started out as a cold. Smith found a lump and decided to get it checked out.
The doctors said it looked fine and drained it. Doctors drained the lump three times before Smith got the call diagnosing her with breast cancer.
Doctors performed a few surgeries to remove it. After having eight rounds of chemo, doctors thought it spread to stage-four cancer, and the chemo did not work.
After doctors sent her to M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas for further testing, they diagnosed her with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease. Smith said she described herself as very blessed she received that diagnosis. Since the cancer did not seem to have progressed, Smith was able to continue on to do her 35 radiation treatments.
Smith is currently seven-and-a-half years cancer free. She said going through that process has made everything in life more special.
“That diagnosis really made me realize that every day is a blessing,” Smith said. “You cannot worry about the little things, you have to just take each day as if it’s your last and never take a day for granted.”
Smith said ‘let the small things roll off your shoulders and just go with it,’ became the motto in her house.
“That was definitely the toughest days of my life,” Smith said. “There were often days where I thought if it wasn’t for them (my family) I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep going. It was because of them that I did.”
Now Smith tries to spend as much time doing things with her girls as she can. They take trips as often as they can. Josie plays softball, basketball and does dance. Smith said if she isn’t in her classroom, she’s most likely at a game.
Along with going to her daughters’ sports games, Smith enjoys making things with her daughter. They use a Cricut vinyl machine to make T-shirts, little quotes and pictures. One year for Christmas, Smith used the machine to make personalized ornaments with her students’ names on them for each student. Smith said they spend lots of time with family and friends, as well as doing as much together as they can.
“We love playing games and going on walks,” Smith said. “She (Josie) thinks she’s a baker, an artist, so she loves to do anything and she always ropes me into anything she’s doing, and I always love it.”
Smith said she enjoys the sense of community she finds in Excelsior and the support that comes from it. It makes her glad she chose Excelsior to live for life.