Ballard High teen fighting terminal liver cancer inspires thousands
Ballard High School junior Amzie Smith has terminal liver cancer and has become an inspiration for thousands of people.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Amzie Smith remembers exactly where she was when her life took a sudden turn and she found her true purpose.
"It was late October, two days before Halloween...I was sitting in my room and my side started hurting," the 16-year-old Ballard High High School junior recalls. "It really came out of nowhere. The pain persisted for three days and I went to the doctor, they thought maybe it was my gall bladder and decided to do a scan."
The scan revealed that Smith had two tumors -- one the size of a softball on her liver, the other near her diaphragm.
Then came the diagnosis: stage 4 adult liver cancer.
It's a kind of cancer rarely found in adults and nearly unheard of in children. And with the size of Amzie's tumors, the prognosis wasn't good.
Suddenly, the energetic teenager was facing two rounds of chemotherapy, which ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. Her long, dark brown hair fell out. She was often sick to her stomach and weak.
Doctors tried another treatment and Amzie and her family -- mom Kathy Douglas and stepdad Tad Douglas, her father Dan Smith and stepmom Jennifer Mangeot Smith and her younger sister, Kyndal -- initially thought her tumors were shrinking, only to find out they had gotten bigger.
By August, all treatments had stopped. Since then, the only medication she has received is to help ease her pain, which she calls "manageable."
"There is no cure," she said. "They told me I only had a few weeks, maybe a few months, left to live."
At that point, Amzie set one one goal -- make it to her 17th birthday, which is Saturday (Oct. 15th).
"I just want to spend as much time as I can with the people I love," she says. "I have never been more happy in my life."
A lifelong Christian and member of Southeast Christian Church, Amzie says her diagnosis has strengthened her relationship with God.
"God has a purpose for everyone and his purpose for me is having this disease," she says. "He has given me the strength to push through this, take this new perspective I have on life and show people that there is another way to live. No matter what you are going through in life, you have to let go of the small things."
She adds: "Happiness is a choice and every day you get decide what you are going to live for."
Amzie continues to worship and participate in her youth ministry group. Over the summer, Amzie made a video testimony that was used as part of Southeast's high school ministry sermon.
On Sunday, her video was played for the entire congregation and she was on stage at one of the services.
"I think the favorite part of that video is when she says 'God gave me a special tool and it's cancer.. so I can reach more people'," says Southeast Christian senior pastor Dave Stone. "Boy, I hope I have an attitude like that when I face suffering."
Stone called Amzie a "special gal" and asked her to pray for the congregation.
"Dear God, thank you for the opportunity to come to church every weekend...to learn more about you, to draw closer to you," Amzie said in front of thousands of people. "I pray that as life is changing and throwing struggles at us and we are suffering with whatever it may be...that you keep our hearts open to your love."
Throughout her diagnosis, Amzie has also continued to walk the hallways of Ballard, going to class nearly every day and maintains a 4.1 GPA. In September, her classmates organized a "Go Green for Amzie" campaign, with hundreds of students wearing green -- the color used to designate liver cancer awareness.
Last year, she was voted sophomore Homecoming Queen. Last month, she was named junior Homecoming Princess.
"Amzie is an amazing girl," says Ballard High principal Staci Eddleman. "She's smart, hard-working and kind, but she has also impressed everyone with her openness and positivity. She wants us all to just care for each other and appreciate what we have. She has touched our hearts and impacted our school immeasurably."
Matt Reagan, a lead team pastor at Southeast Christian, says Amzie has been a gift to many people.
"Here's a girl who keeps showing up, who could check out, could stop going, could just stay at home, but she is committed to relationships, committed to people, committed to kindness," he said. "Even the ones that don't know her, they've heard her story. It meant something to them. It's moved people. old young, but in the high schools especially."
Shortly after her diagnosis, Amzie's dad set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for some things she wants to do before she dies.
She's been to Disney World and Universal Studios and taken a cruise to the Bahamas and Key West. She has enjoyed a hot air balloon ride and went to Orlando for her open water dives to complete her scuba diving certification. She took a two week trip to Switzerland and Italy with her classmates from Ballard and spend a week in Belize, compliments of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"When they first told me that I only had a short time left to live, it was almost relieving to be able to know that," she said. "It gives me the opportunity to think about all the things I want to do…do the things I want to do and leave this world the way I want to leave."
Amzie has played a large role in planning her funeral.
"I don’t want people to be upset or sad," she said. "I want people to celebrate all of the things I have done. I want people to look back and say that she had something special, she made a difference, she was kind. I want that to continue to long after I am gone."
A huge University of Louisville fan, Amzie has been able to meet members of the basketball team.
As of Thursday, she had one outstanding wish -- to meet U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson.
On Friday, that wish will come true. She's been invited to meet Jackson and participate in the Cardinal Walk before the football game against Duke University.
"I love all the players, but Lamar Jackson he has really taken our team to another level and he’s a really great guy," she said. "I can't believe I am actually going to be able to meet him!"
Throughout the past year, Amzie said the hardest thing for her is "trying to stay as normal as I can."
They keep saying I have a couple of weeks or month, it's hard trying to figure out how much time I have left," she said. "I'm trying to stay as normal as I can. Sometimes it feels like there is a lot of pressure, being put into the spotlight with this disease and the main thing is that I want all of the focus to go to God."
Amzie says she is not scared of death.
"I am not scared to die -- everyone is dying," she said. "For me, I know where I am going and I am excited."
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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