’I have a lot to be thankful for,’ says breast cancer survivor, 95
At 85, Bernice Smith learnt she had breast cancer.
A routine mammogram in 2011 revealed a small spot developing under her breast; the St David’s Islander refused to waste any time on negative emotions.
“When you worry about things, that is when they are going to bother you,” she said.
Her family was there offering support at every single step – whether she wanted it or not.
“My sister, my daughter and my two daughters-in-law all went with me to see the doctor,” she said. “When we got to the doctor's office I said, ‘You lot, stay out there.’
“My sister said, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’”
Her doctor, Terence Elliott, allowed everyone to come in.
“[He] was telling me all this about how cancer was formed and he showed me a picture of it,” Ms Smith said. “I said, ‘Doctor, I will tell you right now – do what you have to do. All these terms you are talking about, I don’t understand them.”
After surgery she underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and has been in remission ever since.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” she said. “I haven’t had any trouble with it since. I am as happy as ever.”
“The good Lord has been good to me. I never even thought I would make 60 – I didn’t have a hard life or anything like that – but that is the way it is. I guess God wanted me to live this long.”
Ms Smith grew up where she lives now – on Cove Valley Road, St David’s.
Her mother, Inez Richardson, claimed that her great great grandfather was a Mohawk Indian. Ms Smith’s father, Hilton Richardson, was originally from Warwick. For many decades was the headmaster of St David’s Primary School.
At a time when the rest of Bermuda was segregated, black and white children there mixed freely.
According to Ms Smith, her father was very strict.
“We knew we had to pay attention,” she said. “[But] everybody got together as one. We were friends from one end of the island to the other.”
Mr Richardson took over what was a fledgeling school in 1910, having gained his Cambridge Certificate through correspondence courses.
“The school used to be down where St Luke’s AME is,” Ms Smith said. “I was brought up in that church. In the back, where the parsonage is, there used to be a wooden building. That was the school.”
Mr Richardson partitioned areas off over the years as the tiny school filled with students; he even put one class on the stage.
In the late 1940s he arranged for a new school to be built where St David’s Primary School sits today. He retired a few years later.
Her older sister, the late Helene Paynter, became a well known schoolteacher. Ms Smith says she herself was a “working girl”.
“I did domestic work,” she said. “I had about five houses that I cleaned on the Kindley Air Force Base. Then I worked at the base laundry.”
She left that job when she married Norman Smith, then a bus driver on the base.
“I met him through the Bermuda Militia Artillery when they used to meet down at St David’s Battery,” she said. “He has been dead 45 years now. I think he was going on 55 when he died.”
They were married for 30-odd years and had four children: Lana, Errol, Charles Alexander and Rudolph.
Looking back at her life, Ms Smith is most proud that she is a Christian.
“I was 17 years old when I gave my heart to the Lord and I have been going to church ever since,” she said.
She was at St Luke’s every Sunday until the pandemic started in March. Now she attends on Zoom with the help of her daughter.
“It is definitely better to go in person,” she said.
Sewing was one of the passions in her life. Ms Smith made wedding dresses for many of her friends and various family members, having been taught by her mother, who was a dressmaker.
“I was going to make my own wedding dress but then my girlfriend gave me her dress and another girlfriend gave me her veil,” she said.
She also loved knitting which she was taught at 13 by her sister, Iris Lambe.
Now retired, for 20 years Ms Smith worked at the Knit Shop in Hamilton where she taught many people how to do needlework.
“[One of the last things] I made was a blanket that is on the back of my couch,” she said. “Then I made a crocheted pineapple tablecloth and then I crocheted a bedspread before I had cancer – and I haven’t used it. It took me three or four months to make it.
“People see me now on the street and say ‘Ms Smith!’ I can’t say what their names are, but they know me from the Knit Shop.”
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them