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Local woman surprised she’s still alive after being diagnosed with cancer 21 years ago

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- When Noel Grady-Smith looks at her family photos, one word comes to mind.

“Surprised,” she said.

She’s surprised that 21 years after fighting stage three breast cancer, which was quickly turning into stage four, she’s alive.

“I've made little deals with God. Can I please be there for my son's graduation from high school? Can I please be there for my daughter's marriage, my other daughter's marriage?” she said.

Grady-Smith received a bone marrow transplant at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in 1994.

“They were able to do an autologous transplant which means that they used my personal bone marrow and they were able to treat and freeze it until I was through with all my beginning chemos,” Grady-Smith explained.

Considering where medicine was two decades ago, she had limited options, but this one worked.

“I was very fortunate in that respect, otherwise we would have been looking for donors. At the time 20 years ago, matching donors was much more complex,” she said.

Dr. Dianna Howard, Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, says about half or more of the transplants the hospital provides are for patients who had donors selected outside the family through a registry.

Howard says only about 30 percent of people who need a donor are going to find it in their family.

A registry can connect matches across the nation or worldwide.

"People who get about two years from their bone marrow transplant really have about an 80 or 85 percent chance of living 10 or 15 more years,” Howard said.

Grady-Smith is a living testimony.

“I see it as the wonderful miracle that kept me going.”

If you would like to join the bone marrow registry, the next “Be The Match” swab event will be Saturday August 8th at the Carl & Linda Grubb YMCA in Archdale.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The testing includes a cheek swab to collect stem cells.

The event is open to donors who are ages 18 - 44 and are in good health.

If you can’t make the event, you can register online (http://join.bethematch.org/swab) to have a kit mailed to you. For people 18-44, there is no charge.  For those over the age of 44-60, there is a testing fee.

Doctors request younger donors who are 18-44 most often.