Faith, desire to learn drives Clovis native with terminal disease

By Alisa Boswell
STAFF WRITER
aboswell@pntonline.com

A terminal illness isn’t enough to stop 20-year-old Clovis native Zack Smith from accomplishing his goals in life.

In 2010 when he was 16 years old, Smith was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, and was told he had five tumors in his brain, four of which were inoperable.

Courtesy photo: Debra Smith Zach Smith spends time with a little girl named Gabby at the University of New Mexico  hospital. Smith  crocheted and sold scarves to help buy Christmas gifts for terminally ill children at the hospital.

Courtesy photo: Debra Smith
Zach Smith spends time with a little girl named Gabby at the University of New Mexico
hospital. Smith
crocheted and sold scarves to help buy Christmas gifts for
terminally ill children at the hospital.

Smith’s illness may not allow him to finish high school but his steadfast goal remains to pursue his GED, then go to college.

According to his mother, Debra Smith, her son has never quit trying to do the best he can do in school, despite the many trials with his condition over the last four years.

She said when Zack began getting severe migraines in 2010, he still managed to maintain an A/B average despite missing a lot of school.

Debra said she and Zach moved to Albuquerque in 2013. A short while later, Zack started taking lessons as part of an Albuquerque Public Schools program.

Zack and his mother have been living in a hotel in Albuquerque the last year while Zack receives treatment.

APS presented Zack with an honorary high school diploma in May in recognition of all of his hard work.

“It’s mind boggling to me that he still wants to pursue his education,” Debra Smith said. “You can ask anybody and they will tell you that he inspires them. I keep telling Zack all the time, ‘you know what, you’ve touched so many people.’”

Debra said she and Zack have become close friends with the hotel staff and upon meeting the parents of one young man working at the hotel, his parents told her since meeting Zack, their son’s demeanor toward life had changed.

She said another woman told them that her granddaughter was going to quit school until she heard Zack’s story, saying that if Zack could do it with all of his struggles, so could she.

“He has an amazing attitude,” Debra said. “My daddy’s always been my hero, but I told him he had to take a back seat. He (Zack) gives me inspiration. I don’t think I could do what Zack’s doing. I’m not strong because I’m a strong person. He keeps me that way.”

After Zack began crocheting scarves two years ago to keep his hands busy while sitting in hospital rooms for treatment, he began to sell them, using the money to buy Christmas presents for terminally ill children at the University of New Mexico hospital where he was being treated.

“It’s weird how God uses his troubles to bring others closer to him,” Debra said. “I honestly believe that God is using Zack to touch people. It just goes to show that no matter how bad a situation in your life, there are blessings that come out of it.”

Debra said two of her four sons began believing in God after watching their younger brother impact so many lives with his positive, upbeat nature.

“He (Zack) told me the other day, ‘how cool is it, Mom, that God is using me to touch people’s lives and bring them closer to him?’” Debra said.

Debra said her son has had a rough life, losing his father to a heart attack when he was a small child, losing 130 pounds from chemotherapy and radiation treatments and having brain surgeries, and through it all, Zack’s focus has never failed to be bringing joy to others.

“I truly feel that with Zack not having had a whole lot and with everything in his life not being so great, I think it makes him happy to spread joy to others. He told me one day that it makes him feel better (to make others happy).”

Debra said when people tell Zack they are sorry to hear about his condition, he always says, “Don’t be sorry because I’ve been given four years I wasn’t supposed to have.”

Zack’s cancer went into remission in 2012, three months after Zack became “saved,” according to Debra.

But less than one year later in 2013, the cancer had returned in his spine.

Debra said with all other treatments having been exhausted, her son is now on his last treatment option.

She said they find out today if it is working.

If not, Debra said Zack told his doctor that he wins either way, because with death, he will be with Jesus and in life, he’s with his family.

“I’ve always told my kids that God doesn’t let things happen in our lives on accident. It’s on purpose,” Debra said. “It’s not a coincidence that we’ve met the people that we’ve met. There’s a reason that God put the people he put in our lives.”

Debra said she and her son are looking for a place to live in Albuquerque so Zack can continue his education.

“For however long he’s got left, I want my son to be happy and I want whatever comes for it to be the best and happiest for him,” Debra said.

“If I get up in the morning, everything’s OK,” Zack said. “God will get me through the day.”