Tessa Smith was recently selected by McMinnville Fall Crawl 5K to be its third Hometown Hero. The Centertown Elementary student was diagnosed with a muscular cancer in 2010.
“Tessa is what I would call a reluctant hero,” said Joshua Crain, who is organizing the race with his wife, Ashly, and Main Street McMinnville. “She doesn’t like the spotlight and attention. Her story is one of quiet resolve. She has faced a terrible foe and is overcoming, yet is humble. To us, that makes her a hero.”
The 5K will start in downtown McMinnville Oct. 29 beginning at 3 p.m. with all proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Smith will join Hometown Heroes Kelsi Caten and Andy Dunn in starting the race.
Back in mid-March 2010, Tessa was in Florida for a national cheerleading competition with her all-star squad. During some free time, she had lunch with her family and went to Magic Kingdom.
“After taking in the park for a couple of hours, she noticed a knot in her right cheek that was just over an inch in diameter,” said Kami Smith, Tessa’s mother. “After taking her to the emergency room that evening, it was determined to be a blocked salivary gland since it presented itself so quickly.”
Upon returning home, Tessa visited her pediatrician who agreed with the diagnosis. However, the family was asked to keep an eye on the knot for fluctuation and to return in one week.
Eventually an ear, nose and throat specialist determined it to be a mass and removed it April 26.
“We were assured that because of its sudden onset, it would likely be benign,” said Smith. “Before pathology was complete, the doctor’s office called us and said we needed to come and speak with the doctor as soon as we could. At that point, we knew the news would not be what was expected.”
Tests at Vanderbilt confirmed a diagnosis of Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscular cancer that was wrapped around the main muscle in Tessa’s jaw. It’s the muscle that controls chewing, smiling, blinking, etc. on the right side of her face.
A 10-month scheduled regimen of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation were ordered. Surgery on May 17 placed a port under her skin which would be used for her chemotherapy treatments.
“Although the road was a difficult and worrisome one to travel, Tessa received her last chemo on Feb. 16 and is in remission at this point,” said Smith. “She is back in school at Centertown, building back depleted muscle, and working hard to regain the skills to fully participate in the competitive cheerleading she enjoys so much.”
Tessa, health permitting, will be on hand with her family to officially begin the race. To fit in with the spirit of the Halloween-related event being held on the same day as the race, contestants are encouraged to dress in their favorite Halloween costume.
Admission for the 5K race is $25. A kids fun dash will be $15. Registration can be made at www.active.com, or at McMinnville Civic Center. For more information, call Main Street McMinnville at 506-5335.