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Cancer patient’s peace from ‘trash therapy’

Judy Smith-Lee has had a lot to complain about in the past three years.

She's had two bouts of breast cancer, and lost her 35-year-old daughter, Jurina Smith, in a car accident.

Rather than turning inward, the senior citizen found peace by maintaining her Warwick neighbourhood.

“Picking up trash has been therapy for me,” said the Quarry Lane, Khyber Pass resident.

“It is something to occupy my mind. Sometimes I go down to the gas station. Sometimes I go up to Bulkhead Drive or down to the rubber tree outside the Warwick Post Office.”

It's a routine she's been keeping since 1974. Not only does she pick up trash, but she urges neighbours to put their trash out on the right day and encourages neighbourhood children to keep things litter-free.

As she sees it, it's “her job” and she won't let her own problems get in the way of it.

She first had breast cancer diagnosed in 2012, a year before her daughter was killed in the United States.

“I was devastated,” said Ms Smith, who also has a son, Carlos Lee.

Then, breast cancer was diagnosed again last year.

“It has been a very difficult time for me,” she said, “but I try to persevere.”

Her friend, Rose Jones has helped her through her cancer battle.

“I call her my second mother, even though she is younger than me,” said Ms Smith-Lee. “I took care of her parents whenever they were sick.”

She has also received a wealth of encouragement from her family and Christ Anglican Church in Devonshire and Canon James Francis.

This year, environmental charity Keep Bermuda Beautiful recognised Ms Smith-Lee's dedication with a community service award.

“I was really shocked when they called me,” she said. “I was really surprised. I have been doing this for a number of years but never made mention of it to anyone.”

She said the KBB got wind of her efforts when she asked for help with trash bags. She had been paying for them herself, but then the cost became prohibitive.

She wasn't able to attend the KBB awards ceremony in February as she was going abroad for breast cancer treatment.

“I was really disappointed I couldn't go,” she said.

She's now back in Bermuda and undergoing treatment at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The chemotherapy hasn't set well with her and she is in a lot of pain.

It's sometimes difficult for her to walk out to collect trash; she takes her car and drives to the neighbourhood trash hot spots.

Ms Smith-Lee said things were quite different when she was a child growing up on Khyber Pass.

“Back then, everyone was conscious of keeping the area clean, but now so many new persons have come in,” she said. “My neighbours around the Amis Funeral home are very environmentally conscious.”

Beyond her street though, she is not so sure about the dedication level. She regularly collects piles of bottles and food containers from next to the rubber tree left by groups that congregate there in the evening.

“I could pick up bags and bags of trash outside Warwick Preschool,” she said.

She gets frustrated when people toss bags of trash along the side of the road and don't clean up when the bag bursts open.

She also sees a big problem with abandoned bulk waste such as refrigerators, old televisions and furniture. She blames this partly on the cancellation of government's regular bulk pickup service.

“Some people can't afford to pay the trucking fees,” she said. “So when they move out they just dump it all on someone's property.”

She believes it would really help Bermuda if a bulk waste pickup day was reinstated.

There have been times when she has paid for a truck herself to take away unsightly bulk waste. Businessman Nelson Hunt and his staff have also pitched in to help. “I just like to see things kept tidy,” she said.

Ms Smith-Lee will be in treatment until September.

Judy Smith-Lee is committed to keeping her neighbourhood clean, despite her debilitating cancer (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

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Published April 29, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 30, 2015 at 11:21 am)

Cancer patient’s peace from ‘trash therapy’

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