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Simone I. Smith Breath & Bones

Bossing up in the New Year with wisdom and life-changing
revelation from the original “Around the Way Girl.”
Authored by Toni E. Emehel

“I called my grandmother and said, ‘Oma, what I saw was in my bones …’” In an instant, overwhelming silence poured into the room as MB Magazine sat down with entrepreneur, designer, philanthropist and cancer survivor Simone I. Smith. She also happens to be the wife of Todd Smith, professionally known as LL COOL J — pioneer hip-hop artist, multi-Grammy and NAACP Image Award winner, NCIS Los Angeles cast member, and legendary music producer. 

At that moment MB Magazine realized that sitting at the table with Mrs. Simone I. Smith was going to harvest a different conversation. Why? Because when you sit with a woman whose anchoring moments caused her to temporarily lose functionality of her limbs, rendering her an open book for the world to see what she was carrying inside, you not only pull up to the table … but also lean in and pin your ears back so as not to miss one word. 

The Simone I. Smith narrative will leave you inspired, with an increased level of knowledge and accountability to self, to those connected to you, and to God. Engage with this text because all too often we see the media hype surrounding icons like Simone and her husband, Todd Smith, never realizing the story behind the story of their iconic influence. 

Simone and Todd share a similar story: they were both raised by their grandparents. While varying reasons exist as to why God allowed circumstances to mandate a nontraditional home environment for them both, the only explanation that matters is that both were carrying something in the fiber of their being that God could not entrust to just anyone to nurture and develop. Thus, at a very young age, Simone was handed over to her grandmother by God. While Simone’s mother was in the picture, Oma was the primary influence in Simone’s life. In the fullness of time, it would be Oma who ensured that Simone developed both a prayer life and a faith stronger than Simone’s toughest opposition. 

MB Magazine asked Simone, What makes you boss? And without hesitation Simone set the record straight: “I was raised by my grandparents to be God-fearing. I am boss because I believe God.” 

As a believer, Simone’s faith came under attack in 2004 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 chondrosarcoma, a rare bone cancer affecting her right tibia bone. Though initially doctors shared limited information with Simone, she felt within herself that something serious was taking place in her body.

MB Magazine: “From the time you discovered a tumor was growing in your leg, how did you pivot from the shock and devastation of learning you had stage 3 chondrosarcoma?”

Simone I. Smith: “I first learned that something was wrong with my leg when Todd and I were preparing for Patti LaBelle’s 60th birthday party. I had my legs waxed because I was going to shine them up to complement this cute Marc Jacobs sequined dress I had. I was expecting my legs to be super soft after the wax, but I kept touching my right leg because it felt kind of hard. I said to my sister Sloan, ‘Do you feel a knot right here?’ It was a small hard knot that was very faint. Sloan couldn’t feel anything and she thought I was just bugging, but I felt what I felt. After all, we were playing backgammon and drinking margaritas! 

“About a month later, I was training with my trainer on the leg press, and it felt like my leg was going to break. Shortly thereafter, I hit my leg on a wastebasket while walking across my kitchen floor. The wastebasket was high enough that it hit right on the spot where I felt the hard knot. The area swelled and remained swollen for three days, causing me to go to the doctor’s office to have the area examined and X-rayed. The doctor observed the swelling, looked at the X-rays, told me not to do any lower body activity, and sent me home.

“Instinctively, I felt like there was more than the doctor was telling me. On the way home I called my grandmother and informed her I had my leg X-rayed. I told her that what I saw was in my bone. Oma asked, ‘Where are you?’ I told her I was in the car. She said, ‘Okay, the first thing we are going to do is pray. But the first thing you are going to do is ask God to help you to stop cussing.’” 

That was the pivot as soul-stirring laughter began to infuse the room, with Simone continuing to recall those pivotal moments with her grandmother. Oma knew the value of going to God with clean hands and a clean heart. So, just as doctors tapped in to diagnose what was inside Simone’s leg, God would tap into Simone’s heart and diagnose what lay inside. Oma knew. That is why she did what only Oma could: shift Simone’s internal dialogue. Because of the time they had invested together, Simone and Oma were both prepared for the impartation of wisdom shared on that day. 

BONE OF MY BONES

Simone’s husband, Todd Smith, wanted to be in the foxhole with his wife during the most challenging experience of her life. Simone recalls sentiments shared by her husband at the doctor’s office: 

Simone I. Smith: “When doctors were describing the surgery and recovery process of taking the fibula bone from my left leg to replace the tibia bone in my right leg, my husband stopped them. Todd asked, ‘Why can’t you just take my fibula bone and give it to my wife? It’s bigger and stronger.’ The doctors were surprised by Todd’s request. They looked at him and told him, ‘You are the first husband to offer his bone to his wife.’” 

That spoke volumes of the man God created Todd to be. But for his upbringing under the primary care of his grandparents, Todd’s response in that moment might have been different. Everything in Todd’s past prepared him to be an extension of God’s hand in the life of his wife in that moment. From teenage sweethearts to foxhole companions in the throes of life, Simone and Todd have shown themselves to be truly fused together … “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones” personified. 

While Simone pressed through with her faith under attack, God showed Himself to be true in Simone’s life. Sure, He surrounded her with skilled doctors whom He hand-selected to operate in their respective specialties. But God showed Simone that He placed everything she needed inside her own body; gave her an understanding husband to shepherd the process; and inspired Oma to nudge her along in her faith, which ultimately positioned Simone to manifest the inner strength she required to survive. 

The Simone I. Smith narrative was perfectly penned by none other than God Himself! — from her masterful creation inside her mother’s womb to knitting her to a husband with the capacity to love her as much (if not more) than he loves himself. After all, how many husbands do you know who would willingly, without being asked, offer to give one of the strongest parts of themselves to make their wife’s life better? Now that’s what you call “Bossing Up”! 

Unknowingly, what Todd expressed in that moment comforted and assured Simone that she was not alone in the fight. Though Todd was not able to medically give Simone his bone, he gave her so much more. He gave her confidence. He gave her security. Most importantly, he gave her love. 

In the days to follow, Todd banded around Simone to shield her from anything and anyone that threatened her faith and her healing process. 

TRUSTING GOD THROUGH THE PROCESS

MB Magazine: “Since faith has always been an integral part of your life, how did experiencing such a rare cancer strengthen your faith or change it?”

Simone I. Smith: “I was 34 years old at the time I was diagnosed. It was a chondrosarcoma, ‘chondro’ meaning cartilage, contained in my right tibia bone. The condition required me to undergo microvascular reconstructive surgery, wherein doctors removed my right tibia bone and replaced it with my left fibula bone. The reconstruction process also required doctors to remove all the micro veins connected to my left fibula and place them in my right leg as part of the reconstruction. In essence, they rebuilt my right leg from the knee all the way down to my ankle. The surgery was supposed to take seven hours, yet it actually took 15. But it was a success. Since the chondrosarcoma was contained in the bone, I did not require chemotherapy.

“The first six days following the surgery, my medical team came in every hour to listen for a pulse in my leg. This was important because if the pulse stopped, that meant my leg would have died. But God had another plan. God was like, ‘That pulse is going to pulsate, and it’s going to keep pulsating!’ And here I am 17 years later … my pulse is still going.”

Simone chuckles as she recalls overhearing conversations between her husband and family members who were calling to check up on her after the surgery: “When I first came home, my right leg had to be on an incline for six weeks. My husband was very protective of me and would not let anybody come to the house. I had two nurses at the house with me. They had to take me to the bathroom. Now, I ain’t going to lie. I broke down a couple of times and started crying because I didn’t want nobody helping me go to the bathroom. I didn’t want that. I felt like, this is insane!

I was so accustomed to doing things for myself. I took care of my children. I took care of my husband. I cooked. I was the one who took my daughter Tali to basketball and soccer; Nina Symone had dance school and Najee was doing baseball. I thought to myself, ‘What is going on here? I can’t do this.’ BUT I did it.

“During the time when Todd allowed folks to come to the house to see me, he would tell them, ‘If you are coming to see Simone and you have to cry, you got to go home.’ My husband is a man who believes in positive thinking. He was not allowing any negativity around me during my recovery process. He constantly reminded me that, ‘I need you. The kids need you. You got this. Ain’t nobody coming around here that is going to be negative.’ There were certain people that we know, known to smoke cigarettes. Todd would tell them, ‘If you been smoking before you come over here, you can’t come see Simone.’ Todd wasn’t playing. Because the wound on my leg was still open, the doctors warned against being around anyone who smokes. Todd was the gatekeeper who kept anything and anyone that would stand in the way of my recovery.

“My rehabilitation was two and a half years. I had to learn how to walk again. I went from a wheelchair to two crutches, to one crutch, to a cane, to cane-free. Thank you, Jesus! I was humbled through the process and faith was strengthened because God showed me the power of my inner strength.” 

MB Magazine: “So, you beat cancer. You teamed up with the American Cancer Society in 2018 with your Beat Cancer Like a Boss Campaign. How do you bring that energy and mindset to other areas of your life?”

Simone I. Smith: “I have always had a boss mentality. I’m not trying to toot my own horn; God made me that way. I am a boss at home. I am a boss with Simone I. Smith jewelry. I am a boss when it comes down to my children. I am a boss when it comes down to my fashion. I am a boss at church. I am boss because I believe God; that makes me Boss. When you are boss, you own it. 

MB Magazine: “Did going through cancer, beating it, and relearning to walk help you to tap into what was always there?”

Simone I. Smith: “Yes, because God knew that was going to happen before I was born. And He knew I was going to be able to pull myself through it by tapping in. He knew all that. He knew I was going to design jewelry and give back to the American Cancer Society through my Sweet Touch of Hope Lollipop Collection.” 

MB Magazine: “He also placed everyone in your life that you would need to go through the process.”

Simone I. Smith: YES, my husband, Dr. Rich, Dr. Edward Athanasian, my trainer, my support system of family and friends … everybody. People look at me and say that it was luck … No, that was God. All God.

MB Magazine: “How did your experience with cancer lead to the creation of Simone I. Smith jewelry, aka S.I.S.”

Simone I. Smith: “Well, actually, with S.I.S. someone had actually come to my husband and wanted him to create a lady’s line. So, when he came home and was telling me about it, I got excited. I was like, you can do hoops and I can help you! I have loved hoops since Todd gave me my first pair when I was 17. At that time hoops were hard to find, and if you wanted 14 carat gold hoops, they were very expensive.

“About a week or two after our discussion, Todd was like, ‘I’m not doing this, but if this is something you want to do, you have to do the leg work. You need to find yourself a manufacturer and I will support you.’ When Todd told me that, I was like, okay. You don’t have to say any more. Around the same time, my girlfriend Jackie worked for a couple that she previously wanted Todd and me to meet, Ronny and Tali. One day, I stopped by to meet them while Jackie was at work, and I happened to be wearing a pair of gold doorknocker twisties. The first thing Tali said when I walked in the door was, ‘My husband can make those hoops for you in rose gold and silver.’ After my conversation with Todd, I called Jackie, and she connected us. Ronny told me he worked in jewelry manufacturing, and asked ‘So, what is it you want to do?’ I responded, ‘I want to bless women until the day I die with hoop earrings. Because I can’t find any good hoop earrings.’ We set up a meeting and the rest is history. 

“Ronny has been a blessing and my business partner since 2009. I have the Simone I. Smith jewelry line and The Sister Love Collection: a collaboration with my friend Mary J. Blige. My products are available online at my website and Macys, and I have even been able to make my hoop earrings economically accessible by creating a special line of products carried by Walmart. I have also designed two jewelry collections for men, inspired by my husband: Legacy for Men by Simone I. Smith at Macy’s and Focus for Men by Simone I. Smith at Walmart.”

“It is very important for me as a woman to leave a legacy for my children, my grandchildren, and my grandchildren’s children.” 

MB Magazine: “So here you are, you have this incredible jewelry line, and you could have just continued with S.I.S. and your Sweet Touch of Hope Lollipop Line, but you wanted to Boss Up and bring the ladies some beauty.” 

Simone I. Smith: Yes, I have a lash studio; it’s called Amazing Lash Studio. I partnered with one of my girlfriends, Nancy Davis, who has over 25 years’ experience. God has blessed me to be able to make sure the ladies stay looking good and fabulous. God has blessed me to bless them with jewelry, fabulous earrings, and necklaces. I want them to look good and feel good. I also recently launched S.I.S Luxe Lacquer- a clean, nontoxic line of nail polishes. 

“I’ll be honest with you; I have always wanted everybody to feel good to look good. But more importantly as a woman, 17-year cancer survivor, mother of four, and MoMa of two grandchildren- King James and Faith, it is very important for me to leave a legacy. Not only for my children, but for my grandchildren and my grandchildren’s children. God has blessed me to be able to do that. Not only has He blessed me to survive cancer, but God blessed me to be able to walk again and just be here. For that I am thankful.”

MB Magazine is grateful for the opportunity to share this cover feature with its readers to kickstart 2022. May the Simone I. Smith narrative stay with you in this New Year as a reminder that God not only equips us to overcome life challenges, but also gives us everything we need to reflect His character and His likeness, even when our faith is under attack. 

MB Magazine readers, may 2022 be a year of trusting God for you, leveraging the life wisdom gleaned from the life-changing story and testimony of Simone I. Smith to bring God all the glory! 

To join the Beat Cancer Like A Boss Movement and for additional information on Simone I. Smith Signature Collections, head over to Simone’s website.

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