Tutus and Tiaras Trump Cancer

Connie and Mike Smith pose for a picture together on the night they met in October 1990.

Connie and Mike Smith pose for a picture together on the night they met in October 1990.

From the dangerous to the embarrassing, men are notorious for doing whatever it takes to impress the women in their lives. When Mike Smith met his future wife Connie Smith at a mixer between Lambda Chi Alpha and Sigma Kappa in 1990, he pulled out all the stops to win her heart.

“He was up for dancing most of the night, which I loved, or talking on the porch swing, which was sweet,” Connie said. “And he knew the rap to ‘Groove is in the Heart,’ which was impressive.”

The two dated on and off throughout college, and after their engagement, they settled in Mike’s hometown of Kansas City. Mike (’93) put his business administration degree to use for Western Auto and later YRC freight company. Connie (’91), a communications major at the University, found work in advertising, followed by public relations at two different school districts. When children Matthew and Madeline came along, she became a stay-at-home mother.

Connie and Mike’s relationship had taken the natural progression that so many do. College parties gave way to PTA events and carting the kids around to various extra curricular activities. By Mike’s own account, their lives were fairly standard, “until the cancer thing hit.”

In December 2011, Connie was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. There was no history of cancer in her family, and Mike never knew anyone who had the disease. Throughout the early diagnosis process, Connie was not too concerned. She was told there was an 80 percent chance it was just calcifications, and she thought doctors were being overly cautious with a second-look mammogram and biopsy surgery.

“Then I heard, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, you have cancer.’ The rest of the conversation sounded like the teacher on Charlie Brown,” she said. “Initially, my brain couldn’t keep up. There was information overload combined with stunned disbelief.”

Facing the prospect of her own mortality, Connie’s maternal instincts were key in fighting the disease. She and Mike decided an aggressive approach was the best way forward. Most of the next year of her life revolved around surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Connie and Mike Smith, along with their children Matthew and Madeline, celebrate at the 2014 Race for the Cure in Kansas City.

Connie and Mike Smith, along with their children Matthew and Madeline, celebrate at the 2014 Race for the Cure in Kansas City.

“When I thought of my kids, being around to see them grow up, I wanted to do everything in my power to make that happen,” she said. “Looking back, there were moments I don’t know how I got through them.”

Sensing that Connie felt like she was alone, Mike set up a Facebook group, Team Connie, to show her how many people were on her side. The group quickly reached more than 300 members, and one of Connie’s sorority sisters mentioned Race for the Cure.
An annual 5K fundraiser, Race for the Cure is one of the signature events of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, an organization devoted to breast cancer education, research, advocacy and support programs.

“The race does a great job of making survivors feel special and like every single survivor is a guest of honor at a really great party,” Connie said. “It’s a great way to be a part of a larger community of people who understand what you’ve been through.”

After putting a team together, it was suggested Mike do something unique to solicit donations, and the idea of wearing a tutu was proposed.

“I said that it would take a lot of donations, at least $2,000, to get me to wear a tutu,” he said.

When that year’s tally came in at more than $5,000, not only did Mike wear the tutu in the race, he topped off his wardrobe with tights and a tiara. Every year since her diagnosis the Smiths have participated in Race for the Cure in Kansas City, and every year they have earned enough that Mike has put aside his pride and worn the outfit in support of his wife and the cause.

Today, Connie is cancer free. She and Mike continue to support Komen Kansas City because of the impact it has on their community and the resources it provides. They also recently celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary.

“I would say we are as close now as we have ever been,” Mike said.

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