By David SCHIMIDT
This year marks the fifth year that I will be involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and the fourth year that I am working with the beautiful people of La Cañada/Montrose to keep their event something special. As the master of ceremonies for the first day’s entertainment and events I am typically asked to share “my cancer story.”
Sharing my story is a bit daunting as I usually share the Relay stage with cancer survivors, people in the heat of their cancer battle, and those who have moved the proverbial mountain in order to do their part in researching a cure for this horrible disease. A disease that is no respecter of persons, and which randomly and without reason inflicts its evil on far too many. My story is that of a spectator, a bystander if you will, who has been watching cancer combat since the age of 6. I have seen this war from an up close and personal view, witnessed some success stories, and far too many losses to feel victorious … yet.
My introduction to cancer at 6 began with the loss of my father to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a boy of 5, I remember seeing my father (and remember, 5 year olds view fathers as untouchable, infallible and as heroes) too weak to independently get out of his recliner, stationed in the middle of our living room. I remember seeing the tumor on his neck grow, distorting his face to almost unrecognizable. At that age I just thought dad was sick, and sick people get better. It was only later that I discovered dad found out he had inoperable cancer around his 40th birthday, about five years prior to his death. I mention his age because I am 40, and cannot help but wonder how different my life would be right now if I was faced with knowing my days were short upon this earth.
Flash forward about 27 years. It was a Saturday morning in early 2004 at about 6 a.m. when I got a call from my oldest sister explaining to me that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer. She said of mom’s diagnosis, “It isn’t good.” I was familiar with my sister’s tone, as it was the same tone she had when she had to deliver the news of my father’s passing, Christmas Eve in 1977. Just one day before mom’s diagnosis, she was at work. She was 69 years old at the time and simply too full of energy to retire. I know because she tried to retire not once, but twice.
Mom still cooked every meal for my stepfather, kept up with the laundry, shopping and with the housework in the house she fought to keep when my father past away decades earlier. She also walked three to five miles along the roads of Big Sandy, Tex. with my sisters a few days per week.
That same pillar of tenacity, my mother, was initially taken to the hospital as a result of what was thought to be a mild stroke. What she was told was they found lung cancer, which they were certain was “stage 4.” Mom had been a smoker but she’d quit smoking in 1970 (when she became pregnant with me). As if hearing stage 4 lung cancer wasn’t enough, doctors went on to explain her lung cancer had metastasized in her spine, adrenal glands, chest and brain. In fact, the brain tumors were so numerous we were told, “there were too many to count.” Additionally the news that nothing long term would be helpful came right before her being given a life expectancy of three to six months from that day.
It was a day too many have experienced and a day every one hopes to eliminate for future generations.
Both my parents were fighters. Mom however had the benefit of years of research development and cancer treatments which were not available to my dad. So she decided to fight and from diagnosis day one she determined she would do everything possible to beat this disease. And fight she did.
As many know all too well, watching Mom, a woman who had always been the epitome of health, go though rounds of chemo and weeks of radiation took a toll on us all. We saw her lose her hair and her ability to stand tall as the cancer attacked her spine, choking off the functions of the nerves that run along it. We watched her eyesight fade as brain legions continued to grow in number and size and we listened to her breathing become a laborious act. And we watched in horror as the combination of the affects of her cancer, and her cancer treatments, reduced her by nearly half, turning her into not much more than an 80 lb. bag of bones. This went on for months, well beyond her six- month initial life expectancy, which was both a blessing and a curse. When she became paralyzed we took turns at her bedside.
I’d love to tell you that my parents were the start and finish of my experience with cancer, but sadly, I’ve had other run-ins with this evil. Siblings who have battled melanoma and friends losing limbs from cancerous tumors. Co-workers arriving in the office with that scared look in their eyes. My step-father (my dad from the time I was 11) was taken a little over a year ago and a childhood friend lost his wife in early March after her three-year fight with a rare form of brain cancer that currently has a 0% survival rate.
These experiences have pushed me into a more proactive mindset and – trust me – I’ve had a few lumps and moles checked out, too. Cancer has no conscience. It is a monster that lurks in the dark always ready to attack.
Cancer is scary. It scares me and it scares me because I know I haven’t lived a “pure” life. I don’t always make good nutritional decisions and it’s only recently that I can say I am tobacco free. But I still love to be in the sun, and I still love beach vacations, and the fact is … it is impossible for any of us to completely remove ourselves from all carcinogens. And that is precisely why I choose every year to be part of this wonderful event, the Foothills Relay for Life.
I fantasize every year prior to this event that we, up there at Clark-Magnet High School, will raise that one magical dollar that will be the last needed and will finally fund that miracle cure and forever rid the world of this evil monster. I believe we will find a cure for cancer, and I believe we are close. It is that faith in a cure that leads me to empty my pockets year after year because I don’t want to walk away with that final cure research dollar in my pocket. It is my belief in a cure that drives me to host Relay and motivates me with the energy needed to keep the Relay walkers, entertainers, sponsors, cancer fighters and survivors pumped up.
As I sit here reading and editing what I have written, I am overwhelmed by emotion because I am one of the lucky ones. Lucky to have been cancer free my entire life, lucky to have had the time with those I’ve loved who have lost their cancer battle, and lucky to have cancer survivors in my life.
Over the years, Relay has given me a chance to do something constructive in the fight against cancer and I do so alongside an army – an army of people who have become my extended family and whom inspire me. Each year, together, we build hope that one day we will find a cure. And every year, I am humbled by the opportunity to meet some of the strongest and most beautiful people this world has to offer, joining me at Relay and for this cause.
So that’s my cancer story and also why I participate in Relay For Life each year and will do so as long as I am able to join others as a warrior against a disease that must be wiped out.
Come out and join us as we anticipate together that this will be the year of the cure!
I hope to see everyone at Clark Magnet School, 4747 New York Ave. in La Crescenta the weekend of May 12-13.
David Schimidt is the emcee for the annual Foothills Relay For Life. To find out how to take part or support Relay, visit the web page http://foothillsrelayforlife.com/2012event.htm.