Sisters Share Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer is a disease that does not play fairly — especially breast cancer which is the most common type diagnosed among women in the U.S. In many instances, breast cancer creeps into a person’s life when they are raising their family or at the pinnacle of their career when they do not have time for an illness to slow them down.

Just ask Abby Danko, a 40-year-old mother of three from Morrisdale, Pennsylvania, whose breast cancer journey began three years ago.

In 2021, when I went for my annual gynecological visit, I was experiencing some irregular bleeding,” she explained. “My doctor ordered some tests including a mammogram which detected a spot on my chest. A second mammogram was performed which also revealed something that required attention.”

She continued, “I had been seeing my Penn Highlands Healthcare gynecologists since I had my first child, and he was 12 at the time, so I trusted their recommendation. I was referred to Dr. Kelley Smith, and since I heard good things about her in the community, I scheduled an appointment.”

Abby met with Dr. Smith, a board-certified general surgeon at Penn Highlands DuBois, who provides a comprehensive range of surgical procedures and specializes in women’s health and genetic testing for hereditary cancers.

Sister Share Breast Cancer
Sisters Abby Danko and Kelly Williamson, who share a breast cancer diagnosis, credit Dr. Kelley Smith with their recovery.

The tumor was on Abby’s chest wall. When Dr. Smith performed a biopsy, it was malignant and the cancer was at Stage 0 DCIS.

“There was a history of breast cancer in my family and I knew that if I ever received that diagnosis I would have a double mastectomy,” she explained.

Dr. Smith performed the surgery on July 29, 2021. However, an underlying autoimmune disease that Abby had been living with for years, delayed her healing and necessitated treatment at a national health system outside of Pennsylvania.

“In terms of healthcare, a nationally known hospital is not always better,” Abby said. “I would stay with Dr. Smith and Penn Highlands DuBois. She always cared and emphasized that breasts do not define you as a woman.”

“I had the best care from Penn Highlands Healthcare and a top-notch doctor. You do not need to go outside of a small town to experience what is in our backyard.”

In fact, in 2023, when Abby’s sister, Kelly Williamson, learned she had breast cancer, there was no question as to who would provide her care – Dr. Kelley Smith.

“Our mother, our younger sister and I had the genetic testing conducted to identify whether we carry the breast cancer gene. Our mother and sister tested positive for the BARD-1 gene, but I do not have the gene,” reported Kelly. “However, since some of the results showed that there could be a higher risk of me contracting breast cancer over my lifetime, it was advised that I be tested more often — every six months.”

Kelly’s genetic testing occurred in August 2022 when she was 41-years old; that’s the time that most women begin having their first mammograms. Six months later, she had a breast MRI which did not indicate any cancer. Then, six months later, in July 2023, she had a mammogram and ultrasound which showed calcium deposits in her breast. A subsequent biopsy revealed that she had Stage 0 DCIS breast cancer — which was the exact diagnosis as Abby. Dr. Smith presented her with two options — a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. Kelly chose to see a plastic surgeon for reconstruction options and to be able to have joint surgery.

“I chose the double mastectomy because I did not want to leave anything to chance,” Kelly said.

On October 23, 2023, Kelly had a double mastectomy. She recovered quickly in just six weeks and is looking forward to having silicone implants this spring.

Kelly and Abby are fortunate to live within 10 minutes of each other and their extended family who has provided support throughout their cancer journey. The Williamson family also has received an outpouring of support from the community.

“My husband, Davey, is the athletic director for the West Branch Area School District", said Kelly, who is a preschool teacher. “My two sisters organized a basket raffle and 50/50 to benefit our family during the annual Pink Out game at a varsity football game last fall. The girls’ volleyball and soccer teams held benefits for our family as well during their annual Pink Out games. I cannot begin to describe the outpouring of love and support we received from everyone.”

Kelly also credits Dr. Kelley Smith and her physician assistant, Melissa Hilliard, with her recovery.

“When Melissa gave me the results of my biopsy in person, she gave me a hug and we cried together,” Kelly said. “Dr. Smith is amazing! They are both tremendous people. I felt in control and that they respected and supported my decisions.”


While approximately 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, a woman’s individual risk varies by age and race/ethnicity, as well as family, medical, and reproductive history. In addition, not all masses are cancerous.

Penn Highlands Healthcare screens its patients to identify those who are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

“Patients are stratified for risk and a plan will be made for screening which may include mammogram, ultrasounds or MRI. This may also include more frequent examinations,” Dr. Smith explained.

As a surgeon with more than 25 years of breast health experience, Dr. Smith follows a multidisciplinary approach to care. She and Melissa Hilliard, PA-C, CGRA, who is cancer genetics and risk assessment certified by the National Consortium of Breast Cancer Centers, screen patients to help identify their breast cancer risk. They work closely with medical imaging as well as two plastic surgeons in the delivery of high-quality patient care.

“Women who come to Penn Highlands Healthcare for breast care receive innovative therapies delivered by knowledgeable and skilled professionals using advanced technology,” said Dr. Smith.