Inspiring with a Unique Perspective
Growing up in the small town of La Vernia, TX, playing baseball was a passion for 14-year-old Seth Schoenert. “I loved the sport and being out there with my friends,” recalls Seth, now a PE and health teacher in Hinesville, GA. But increasing bouts of fatigue and stomach cramps were making the physical demands of baseball a challenge for the eighth grader. “When I took myself out of a game during only the second inning, my Mom knew something was very wrong.” Seth’s family practitioner recommended a CT scan, which revealed a shocking diagnosis, a large tumor in the abdomen. “I learned that I had Burkitt’s lymphoma, a fast-moving non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that caused a large tumor in my abdomen,” he explains. After a difficult but successful treatment, Seth – a husband and father of a 2-year-old daughter – has been cancer-free since 2008 and plans to help others facing a cancer diagnosis by serving as a youth mentor for the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Support Group, an important part of the AYA Foundation San Antonio, founded by pediatric oncologist Dr. Jaime Estrada.
Today, Seth is grateful for his family and good health – but also for the unique perspective cancer survivorship has given him. “The experience made me grow up faster and realize how quickly life can change and how fragile it really is.”
AYA Foundation is focused on providing economic, educational, and psychosocial support to young cancer patients aged 15-39, and their families, who are in active treatment or post-therapy survivorship. After his diagnosis in 2008, Seth received treatment at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio under Dr. Estrada’s care. “We’ve maintained a great friendship over the years, so when Dr. Estrada asked if I was interested in mentoring young patients and survivors, I didn’t hesitate to get involved,” Seth says.
Looking back at the difficult time that turned his young life upside down, Seth says he is grateful his family doctor acted quickly to find a diagnosis. “If I had waited another week, my condition would have been much worse, and my span of treatment would likely have been longer,” he explains. After surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy spanning from May to August 2008, Seth was declared cancer free – though his treatment journey during those months was a difficult, painful road that took a physical and emotional toll. After Seth’s tumor ruptured during treatment, he experienced two seizures and fell into a brief coma that required a month-long hospitalization. “I had an ileostomy bag, which was hard for a 14-year-old to deal with, and my weight dropped from about 140 pounds down to 90 pounds due to the chemotherapy,” he recalls. Seth also says a common side effect of chemotherapy – losing his hair – was especially hard for him emotionally, though he received a meaningful gesture of support from his hometown buddies. “I had known my eighth-grade friends since kindergarten, and they all shaved their heads to show support, including my dad. It was incredibly encouraging,” he adds. Seth says his family’s support was pivotal in helping him through treatment. “I have two older brothers, and one was in college at the time. He dropped out to help at home so my parents could take turns staying with me in the hospital.” Seth also says he received tremendous support from his grandmother, who was a breast cancer survivor and understood the emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis.
Seth stresses that AYA’s commitment to helping cancer patients and their families stay motivated and positive during treatment can make a life-changing difference. “Not everyone has mentors and family support, so talking to someone who has gone through what you’re facing is really meaningful and valuable.” He adds that AYA’s focus on fertility preservation is another important issue, as most cancer patients worry about the impact of treatments on fertility.