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Moffitt team member and patient Margie Schwerdt

I am the first face many patients and their loved ones see as they walk into Moffitt Cancer Center. For the past seven years, I’ve greeted them as they walk into Moffitt’s Clinic Building. I am always armed with a smile and a hug as I cry along with many who just learned they have cancer and celebrate with those who just rang the bell to signal their final treatment.

Many of our patients and team members know that I fought and won a battle against colon cancer 20 years ago. I often share my story in hopes of encouraging those just diagnosed with cancer.

For two decades I’ve been cancer free, but that changed earlier this year. I was feeling fatigued, which is very unusual for me. Typically I am a bundle of energy. I was also very short of breath. In fact, I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without feeling winded. I knew something was very wrong. I thought maybe I had bronchitis because it was flu season. I went to a doctor and began what would become a month’s worth of antibiotics and steroids, but they didn’t help. Eventually, a physician ordered an X-ray, CT scan and a bronchoscopy. That’s when I was diagnosed with limited-stage small cell lung cancer, a very aggressive tumor that often spreads very quickly. I feel fortunate because, while the cancer is in both of my lungs, it has not spread to my brain. I began treatment within a week.

Unfortunately, I am one of those people that if anything could go wrong during treatment, it did. I ended up in the Intensive Care Unit for several days following my first round of chemotherapy, but I know a strong cancer needs a strong chemotherapy, so I continued the treatment. In addition to the chemotherapy, I underwent 30 radiation treatments and I had my last treatment on April 20, and I was the one ringing the bell.

I admit I was a smoker for many years and I’ve been around second-hand smoke for most of my life. My lung cancer is a cancer caused by smoking. I recommend anyone who’s ever smoked get a CT scan because it could save your life. My doctor says my prognosis is good, but if I waited just a few months longer to get the CT scan, things may not look as positive.

I can say this experience has truly humbled me. Most people don’t really know what people think of them, but I do. The love and compassion I’ve been shown from Moffitt team members, as well as the patients and their loved ones, has been overwhelming. From people donating their paid time off so I can recover at home, to people bringing me meals and sending me cards, I truly feel blessed. Like anyone, I have good days and bad days. Now, it’s the doctors and nurses crying with me on the bad days and laughing with me on the good days. I haven’t lived with cancer for almost 20 years, and I certainly haven’t lived it like I’m living it now.

Though I ended my radiation therapy, I am gearing up for my third cycle of chemotherapy. Moffitt has been my joy for the past 17 years. I spent 10 years working in our Thoracic, Sarcoma and GI clinics, before heading into my role in Patient Relations. I feel that God has me in his hands and I pray for remission. I pray for more time. I feel I have more to do at Moffitt. There are more people for me to inspire and more people for me to show love and compassion the way it was shown to me. I love all of you and I want to thank you for your genuine concern as I fight my second battle with cancer.

Margie Schwerdt