Patient Stories

Franklin's Story


For 45 years, a question knocked around Franklin Smith’s head: "Will you do it now?"

Smith had long wanted to become an actor but never signed up for acting classes, thinking his dream was unattainable.

He went to college, married, raised a family and became a professor of sociology at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, New Jersey.

In 1999, the question resurfaced as Smith lay in a hospital bed at Einstein Medical Center, recovering from colorectal cancer.

"I said as soon as I am healthy and able, I will go do it," Smith said.

Smith's cancer was detected through a colonoscopy that he scheduled after experiencing rectal bleeding. A tumor was detected in his lower bowel. After his diagnosis, Smith curled up and spent a couple days on the couch "in a ball" before getting up the nerve to call a friend, Einstein urologist Dr. Joseph Williams.

"He said, I'll take care of it. I'll put a team together. All you have to do is make your appointments."

He received a week of chemotherapy under the guidance of oncologist Dr. John Leighton Jr., followed by more than 20 rounds of radiation by Dr. Kenneth Zeitzer, a radiation oncologist. He stayed at Hospitality House during his radiation treatments so he wouldn't have to travel back and forth from his house to the hospital every day. Hospitality House provides a home-like setting for patients and family members of patients being treated at Einstein.


"My treatment gave life to a dream that had been in waiting for over 45 years."

- Franklin Smith


While at Einstein, Smith struck up friendships, feeling an instant bond with other patients and getting to know the Einstein nurses. People started calling him "the mayor" of the radiation room because of his outgoing personality. He describes the atmosphere as warm, even as snow fell outside and lives hung in balance.

He recalls the professionalism of his nurses and doctors, who tried to give him as much information as they could upfront, saying "You will experience this" and "This may happen during treatment". He found the straight talk comforting.

Smith's tumor shrank. He started feeling good again, and the bleeding stopped. He felt healed. His treatment team advised that he still needed surgery. Smith met with Dr. Richard Greenberg and had the operation on Feb. 23, his wedding anniversary.

With his treatment finally over, it was time to tackle the dream.

He enrolled in Weist-Barren Studios in Atlantic City. One day, an agent showed up and saw Smith performing a scene from A Patch of Blue, a 1965 drama starring Sidney Poitier.

Smith, born on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, has a melodious voice, and a touch of his low-country "Gullah" accent still comes through even though his family moved to the South Bronx in 1954.

The agent told Smith he was interested.

Background roles followed - Jersey GirlSex in the City - and so did more acting classes and larger roles. Smith played a minister in the critically-acclaimed series The Wire, a cantankerous equipment manager in Invincible and had roles in numerous other productions, including The UndyingCayman WentLetting Goand the hit series Boardwalk Empire.

He calls his treatment at Einstein a blessing. More than 10 years later, he still maintains contact with his Einstein family, who calls him "the actor" when he drops in to visit from time to time.

"My treatment gave life to a dream that had been in waiting for over 45 years," Smith said.

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