A Personal Story of Cancer and Survival

By Tina Withrow

The first thing that you notice about Sorrel Schmidt is her Audrey Hepburn like beauty. I think it might just be her eyes. They are kind. Her name comes from the reddish brown color of a horse, sorrel brown. You know immediately that she is a kind soul, and we could all use a little more kind souls in this world.

We both share a love of cancer survivors and their families, but I never knew just how personal her cancer story was.

It was during her time at x-ray school that she felt the odd lump around her throat area. While the four biopsies came back negative, she could tell that this oddity was growing. Pressing on, she prepared for surgery and graduation. Surgery revealed thyroid cancer. While doing her x-ray training she became intrigued by the radiation therapy department. They had Polaroid pictures of each patient so you could see the faces of the cancer survivors. Looking at the pictures, you knew something immediately about that person and there seemed to be a personal connection with each patient and their radiation therapist.

She was hooked. Now, all she needed to do was to apply to radiation therapy school. She applied and the professor called her to tell her she had been denied due to a full class. After total shock settled in, she got really angry and decided to personally call the professor and let him know that it didn’t matter what they had decided, she had decided that somehow, some way, she would be a radiation therapist! Twenty-four hours later he called back to tell her she was accepted.

The scar from her surgery bothered her. She kept it covered up easily enough with scarves, a collar shirt or a Band-Aid. People didn’t have to know. It was still there as a constant reminder that life isn’t perfect. Life can change. When talking with a friend one day about the scar, the friend gave her new perspective by reminding her, “It’s just like stripes on the Tiger.” With tragedy, comes new perspective. “I don’t even want to know who I would have been as a person if I hadn’t had this journey. I would have been a completely different person and that is scary. Scarier than any cancer diagnosis.”

Sorrell works with Dr. Tim Nichols at Northpoint cancer center in Dallas, Texas, and Verity Radiation in Plano, Texas, where they do all modalities of radiation treatment. “We take pride in what we do and how we care for the survivor and the caregiver. We have a legacy of compassionate care that you don’t find and won’t find elsewhere. We’re different and we like that we’re different.”

When her cancer returned in 2013, it was evident that she needed to look at all of her options and map out her strategy. Dr. Tim Nichols became one of her confidants and lead quarterbacks. Dr. Nichols is a very methodical, detail oriented, results oriented physician. He leaves nothing to chance! His hobby is race care driving, which he does as often as possible and as fast as possible. He knows about life in the fast lane and then the crash!

Sorrel reminds me that when you do radiation, your margin of error is zero! His review of her case (yes, she has all of her results in a pretty three-ring binder!) brought about a plan she could live with. “Dr. Nichols reminded me over and over by his actions that he truly cared for me and had my best interest at heart. When you don’t have direction you are fearful. He took away my fears.”

She doesn’t always tell her patients about her journey because she doesn’t want to burden them. “Life today is amazing. I live with a purpose, take care to eat well, exercise well, love well. I get the privilege of coming to work each day and be a super hero.” Now I’m not saying that Sorrel Schmidt is a super hero, but I have never seen her and Batwoman in the same room…

If you or someone you love needs help navigating cancer or any healthcare crisis, please contact patient advocate Tina Withrow at 214-546-2215 or via email at twithrow@health-sync.net.