“I’ve got the gift of life, and anything that I can do to help inspire other people or help in the fight against cancer is my absolute passion,” Schmidt said. “So that presents itself in the form of an opportunity to be involved in something as big as this on a national level, where I can be a voice for other people.”
Schmidt’s journey began in 1997, when she moved to the U.S. from South Africa. Shortly after her arrival, she participated in her first Relay for Life event, which marks the start of her involvement with the American Cancer Society.
“I’d actively be involved in those events,” Schmidt said, “never really realizing that cancer would one day affect me.”
Several years later, Schmidt began devoting her time to becoming healthier. She started a weight loss journey and focused on becoming more physically active.
“I set a goal to run a half marathon, and I honestly can say I felt like I was the fittest I had been in my entire life,” Schmidt said. “I was running about six to seven miles and felt like a million dollars.”
Then, after coming home from a workout in April of 2010, Schmidt noticed a large lump in her breast. At first, she wasn’t too concerned, believing it was a fibroid tumor. However, she soon realized it was something more serious.
“I was one of those people that had a bit of a revelation,” Schmidt said. “I woke up one day and realized I knew this was cancer. I have no idea how I knew it.”
A few days later, Schmidt’s suspicion was confirmed. She was diagnosed with stage three triple-positive breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation and several surgeries before finally being declared cancer-free.
“I am still very passionate about staying healthy,” Schmidt said. “I believe that losing weight and getting healthy is honestly what saved my life, because had I not lost the weight, I would never have found the breast lump.”
A year and a half after her diagnosis, Schmidt met her goal of running a half marathon. Though she didn’t finish with the fastest time, she crossed the finish line, which she considers the most important thing.
“I finished the journey I started,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t allow cancer to take that away from me, so I’m very proud of that.”
Since then, Schmidt has remained active in the American Cancer Society. She served as event chair of Relay for Life in Sullivan County for two years and has raised funds for cancer research in hopes that, one day, a cure will be found.
Because of her extensive involvement, Schmidt was invited to apply for one of 17 open National Stakeholder positions. Once she found out that she had been selected, Schmidt said she was extremely proud.
“I was proud to have the opportunity to actually apply,” Schmidt said. “That was a great honor, and I felt like that was a win in itself, and to have the chance to represent the little area of the Tri-Cities.”
As a National Stakeholder, Schmidt will be read research grants that are submitted to the American Cancer Society. Based on her personal experience with cancer and what she believes to be the most urgent research needs, she will help the society determine which research grants to fund.
During her two-year term, Schmidt will work with clinicians, researchers and other experts in one of the society’s peer review committees. Her role will be to provide a real-world perspective and share the opinions of people in this region who have been affected by cancer.
“Two drugs that I actually took during my course of treatment are drugs that were developed through research grants from the American Cancer Society,” Schmidt said. “So I look at my situation and think, ‘Had it not been for that particular drug, I might not be here.’ This is my opportunity to pay it forward.”
For those looking to get involved with the society locally, Schmidt said people can participate in events such as Relay for Life and the Making Strides walk, donate money, drive cancer patients to their treatments or help them with things like housework and grocery shopping.
“I saw my being affected with cancer as a way that I was chosen to help other people,” Schmidt said. “Anything that I can do to help people is the reason I believe I’m still here.”
For more information about the American Cancer Society, call 1-800-227-2345.