‘Smiles ahead’: Positive attitude helps waitress cope with cancer diagnosis

Lance Shearer

If laughter is the best medicine, and a positive mental attitude gives you a leg up, Mary Beth Akers is miles ahead in her battle with lung cancer.

Or maybe “smiles ahead.” The longtime Marco resident and restaurant worker is dealing with stage 3 “non-small cell” lung cancer, which has also spread to her brain, but has a relentlessly positive and upbeat outlook.

The mother of two and grandmother of three works at Smith House, in what used to be Petit Soleil in the Shops of Old Marco and greeted each guest with a smile during a recent lunch shift. Asked about her treatment, Akers had only good things to say.

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“I’m feeling great – the technology has really come a long way. They told me 10 years ago, this would have been a completely different ballgame.” She spoke highly of Genesis Care in Naples, where she is being treated, and had gone “under the cyber knife” the day before.

“They treat you great, and they’re really pleased the way my body is handling it. I told them; it’s only going one way for me. I’m doing really well.”

Cara Reid, Akers’ supervisor at Smith House, has organized a GoFundMe page for her and also put out a carafe for donations at the restaurant.

“I truly believe it’s out community’s responsibility to take care of our own,” said Reid. “As waitresses, we haven’t always had access to health insurance and savings programs. Mary Beth has been an active member of our community for over 40 years, helping whenever asked, and always serving you with a smile. Now it’s our turn to help her.”

Originally from Iron City, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, Akers has been serving restaurant patrons on Marco Island since 1983. If you have been on the island a while, and ever ate at O’Sheas, the Red Rooster, the Prawnbroker, the Hilton, the Sandbar, or Hoots, there is a good chance she has served you.

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“Everybody hits it off with Mary Beth. Her personality is so nice,” said “Chef Laura” Owen, general manager at CJ’s on the Bay. “She would do anything for anybody. I hope all that good karma comes back to her.”

Owen, one of the donors listed on Mary Beth’s GoFundMe page, said that before the cancer diagnosis, Akers had “thought she might be able to retire.” While Akers does have some health insurance through Blue Cross/Blue Shield, there is nothing cheap about having cancer, and Cara Reid said when they got preliminary cost estimates, they set the GoFundMe goal at $50,000. There is a long way to go, but Akers typically had only good things to say about the response she has gotten from the community.

“You wouldn’t believe – this island has been so good to me,” she said, “people helping out, giving to the GoFundMe.” Akers’ daughter BreAnne Yacono, who lives on Isles of Capri, has been a stalwart helper, taking her mom to treatments despite having just given birth to her second child a month ago.

Reid said she also wanted to thank Smith House owners Tony and Martina Smith, who formerly had the beach eatery concession at Tigertail Beach, for being accommodating with Akers’ work schedule.

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Mary Beth found about the cancer in May, when she went for treatment for pneumonia, “and they found spots on my lung. They say it’s treatable but not curable.” She has 15 treatments scheduled and gets scanned every three months. “It didn’t progress any further,” she said. Akers is greeting every day with a smile.

To access Mary Beth’s GoFundMe page, go online to www.gofundme.com and search for Marybeth Marco Island.