Getting to Know Us – Meet Courtney Schwartz, Health Systems Manager, Hospitals

It was the first week I started working at American Cancer Society that I received my first skin biopsy, and the second week that I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on the right side of my nose. This was no way that anyone would like to begin a new career, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way and I’ll tell you why.
Although this was the first time I was directly affected by cancer, there have been other times cancer has taken larger tolls in my life. My father passed away from complications from his fight with cancer in 2010, my cousin continues her ongoing treatment for metastasized breast cancer, and friends have won and lost their fights with this merciless disease. We will always remember, morn and celebrate. But sometimes we don’t realize who else could presently use our help, support, or even kind words.
It was during my first week on the job that I walked through hospitals with a bandage on my nose from the biopsy, worried about my results that I couldn’t receive fast enough. Trying to keep focused on work I entered infusion wards and sat down with patients. I spoke to them about the help they can receive through ACS, providing brochures and information, but more often than not they just wanted someone to talk to. One woman was there with her sister and I joined them to talk story. She grew up on the west side of O’ahu Island, was suffering from colon cancer, loved her family and poke. She was in high spirits and joked about her doctors, knowing she was in excellent care, then thanked me for the information and said, “Any little bit helps, right?” Wishing her a quick recovery and good health, I thanked her for her time I moved on to the next patient. It was an elderly couple holding hands, the wife receiving chemotherapy. They welcomed me in and the husband kindly offered me snacks they had brought for their few hours spent in treatment. I continued speaking to patients when I realized, all of these people are truly amazing. Their compassion, humility, and ability show their incredible character during such pain and tribulation. All have honored me with their precious time and open outlooks.
When I received the call from my dermatologist saying that the results showed positive for basal cell carcinoma I was shocked and confused, unsure of what steps to take next but feeling the growing impatience arise for getting this disease out of my body. It was small and I caught it early so surgery could wait. That was when I realized I wouldn’t be scared of this diagnosis, it was the strength I saw in patients who were facing far more deadly odds and the brilliance they’ve shown that I wanted to be there for. I wanted to be an aid through their journey and I wouldn’t let this distract me from my mission.
Finally, after surgeries, I received a clean bill of health. With the chances of recurrence being high in the next 5 years, my message to our readers is to be vigilant and remember the 4 S’s, “Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, slop on some sunscreen, and wrap on some sunglasses !” I look forward to the patients I can continue to reach because it’s their strength that got me through what could have been a terrifying point in my life, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.