Deena Deardurff Schmidt
AS A MEMBER of the 1972 U.S. Olympic swim team, Deena Deardurff Schmidt brought home the highest honor in sport — a gold medal. At the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this November 2, her eyes will be on a very different prize. Named Komen’s 2008 Honorary Breast Cancer Survivor, Schmidt serves as a spokesperson to help raise awareness of the disease and, ultimately, find a cure.
“My hope is to educate women [so they know that] anyone can get breast cancer — it doesn’t discriminate,” says Schmidt. “I am as healthy as anyone, and it didn’t bypass me.”
With an impressive competitive swimming career behind her, and a job as head swimming coach at San Diego State University (she has since left SDSU and coaches privately), cancer was the last thing on Schmidt’s mind when she was diagnosed at 47. “Even though I had been coaching women, I had never been around breast cancer,” she says. When she discovered a lump during a routine self-exam in the shower, she knew right away what it was.
“When you get diagnosed, you lose control of your life,” she says. “As an athlete and a coach, I felt I had control — then suddenly I didn’t.” She took an aggressive approach to her treatment, undergoing two lumpectomy surgeries, a radical mastectomy and five months of chemotherapy. Schmidt believes her athletic attributes — a positive attitude, focus and experience with pain management — helped her through treatment. She also maintained regular beach walks through it all.
“My favorite thing is to walk down at Mission Beach,” she says. “It’s the one thing I kept doing, even when I was throwing up every 20 yards.”
Schmidt’s cancer has been in remission for four years. She still walks that 51⁄2-mile stretch regularly with friends. A chance meeting with a stranger during one of those walks inspired her to volunteer with Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“[This woman] had no hair and told me she was dying, and that her sister and mother had died, too,” recalls Schmidt. “It hit me: I needed to give back and do something,” she says. She began volunteering for Komen, which led to her current role as this year’s Honorary Breast Cancer Survivor. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has distributed more than $6 million to local organizations providing breast-cancer education, screening, diagnostics, treatment and patient support for the uninsured or underinsured in San Diego County.
“When I first got diagnosed, I thought I was going to be able to discreetly go through cancer, because I didn’t want to upset everybody,” says Schmidt. “Once I realized that wasn’t possible, I kind of embraced it. I am meant to help other people go through this. For the rest of my life, that’s something I will try to do in whatever way I can.”
On November 2, Deena Deardurff Schmidt joins some 13,000 San Diegans in Balboa Park for the 12th annual Susan G. Komen San Diego Race for the Cure. A survivor ceremony, held prior to the race, recognizes Schmidt and other San Diego breast-cancer survivors. Sign up for the Race for the Cure online at sdkomen.org or call 760-692-2900 for an entry form.