TODAY | October 27, 2012
>>> breast cancer awareness month is winding down, but for one family in houston, the disease is always on their minds. every woman in the smith family has been affected. even after three diagnoses and 12 surgeries, they are not ready to give up.
>> my name is toni smith, i was diagnosed with breast cancer june, 28.
>> my name is mary smith -johnson. i am toni 's baby sister that has chosen to have an elective double mastectomy to be preventative.
>> i'm toni 's first cousin. i was diagnosed with breast cancer in july of 2004 .
>> one family, two generations, seven women. their lives forever changed by breast cancer . carla 's mother lena the first to lose her battle to the disease 32 years ago.
>> the hardest moment was when i found out that i had it. and i was wondering why. because of losing my mother when i was 7.
>> there have been three positive diagnoses in this family.
>> my eldest sister has already had a double mastectomy and a breast reconstruction . she and my mom went in on the same day.
>> reporter: earlier this year, another devastating diagnosis. triple negative breast cancer found in toni 's mom connie.
>> it grows very quickly. this is a particular type of cancer which in young african-american women is often lethal.
>> reporter: it's why carla fears for her 16-year-old daughter epiphany.
>> reporter: i'm very worried for my daughter.
>> i see them as survivors. so if they can do it, i can do it, too.
>> i don't want my nephews or nieces seeing cancer and think it's something to be afraid of. i want think to think of cancer and look at us and say they made it through.
>> reporter: today they continue to draw strength from each other and the path.
>> as far as my aunt lena passing, that's who i want to be like when i grow up. yeah, because i always saw her strength. and her strength reminded me of everything that we always went through.
>> strong women. toni , mary, carla , connie are all here this morn. my own mother died of breast cancer about six years ago, and i have three little girls, so my heart really goes out to all of you. there's only five of you here today. your mother is undergoing surgery next week. can you tell us a little bit about how she's doing and her story right now?
>> she's doing fine. she's the strength, she's the backbone of the family. so that's -- we get our strength from her. she's been preparing for her surgery next wednesday. so she's resting right now. and getting prepared for it.
>> we wish her all the best. mary, you opted for the double mastectomy and the hysterectomy, even though you didn't test positive for the gene.
>> why go through all that if you aren't even sure what the future holds?
>> with my family history , i have two people in my family diagnosed recently. the risk factors are so large. i'm doing it preventatively so i can see zoe grow up.
>> isn't that what it's all about? just making sure you see your kids, right?
>> lena, you're doing the same. why for you? did you feel like putting your body through this when you're not sure.
>> i'm doing it because of the risk factors that are within my family are hereditary and i wanted to be proactive to show other individuals out there that they can do it, too.
>> it must really put your mind at ease too because you're not thinking every day, is today the day.
>> it does. our family didn't know 30 years ago that we should have done the analysis. it doesn't you if you have cancer, but it will tell you your inherent disease options and it gives your doctor a chance to be preventive, as opposed to chemo and surgeries.
>> how has this bonded you all as a family?
>> i'm the oldest. in the beginning --
>> you've got a big job.
>> yes. it was very hard for us when we found out about carla and we found out bowabout toni . but i think the surgery itself made us so close. all our sisters took off for like 30 days and stayed at the hospital with me and my mom and they came to the hospital and they did everything that we did with toni . we all just shut down because we had no choice.
>> it must feel good having each other.
>> the support is there. it is. i really appreciate that they are there for me. we have always been a large family and we've always been supportive of each other and we're going to stay that way.
>> well, again, i'm so glad you have each other and we wish your mother all the best next week. thank you so much for joining us. you are strong women. thank you.