SAUCIER -- Sylvia Skrmetta, a painter and sculptor from Saucier, said she often wondered why her brother David Smith, a former Biloxian who lives in Atlanta, was the one child out of six in her family to get sick.
Smith was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his knee when he was about a year old, which caused him to live a life in and out of surgeries, casts and braces. But in 1997, after he was declared cancer free from a tumor called a plasmacytoma on his neck, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells.
"I have said to myself, 'If this is karma, he must have been a real bad a-- in his previous life,'" Skrmetta said. "But, I think I have always felt some guilt in being healthy -- it's very hard to complain about aches and pains when I know that my worst days can't even compare to his best days."
But Skrmetta did what any big sister would do -- she helped her baby brother find a reason to live, even with a debilitating disease.
Art for the soul
Before his battle with cancer, Smith owned a gallery in Atlanta with his brother. He took in an interest in graphic design, particularly in the area of manipulating digital photography through Photoshop.
"David was really good at the digital photography prints, and he really enjoyed doing it," she said.
Skrmetta said as the disease began to take its toll, Smith was no longer able to follow his passion of print making. "I stepped up to the plate because I wanted him to have some purpose and I saw some talent in him," she said. "So, I introduced him to acrylic painting, and he just took off."
She said Smith's initial work was "somewhat dark" because of his depression.
"But once he found his direction, he really got into it, and it actually brought him some joy," she said. And once we got him in some galleries and people started buying his work, it gave him a reason to get up in the morning."
A life on canvas
Skrmetta said she was visiting Smith and his family last Christmas. She said her brother was in a deep depression and she wanted to do something to help him.
"He woke up one morning and said he would like to make a book of his paintings and I told him that we should start on that immediately and he did," she said. "And that's all it took.
Smith published "A Walk in My Shoes" earlier this year. The book is a collection of some of his paintings, with occasional narrative and a time line of his health problems.
Paying it forward
Skrmetta said Smith decided the book could be a way to help others.
"He has put it on Amazon and all of the profits from the book are going to the Hope House for cancer patients in Atlanta," she said. "From the get-go, he's always given 50 percent of the sale of his paintings to help cancer patients -- he's really trying to help others."
She said the book has helped him cope with his depression. Skrmetta said she has worked with hospice patients and observed depression is very common in people with cancer.
"I've always told him he had a purpose and this book is definitely a part of his purpose," she said. "It's giving people with cancer hope, and it teaches them to put their minds on something else, or otherwise they would just succumb to the cancer and be dead in two months."
Fighting the fight
Skrmetta said Smith continues to fight the cancer, and he has good days and bad days, especially with his chemotherapy.
She said she admires his tenacity.
"He has been at death's door many times -- many times -- and he has yet to go through it," she said. "He received a death sentence but I refused to let him go there."