‘I was going to fight it’


Deena Schirmer relied on her faith, family and doctors as she battled disease

  • Deena Schirmer
    Deena Schirmer

In the midst of a battle with breast cancer, Deena Schirmer of Cleveland drew strength from  those around her.

Following what she says was a tumultuous divorce, Schirmer moved from Griffin to Cumming in 2010 to live with her parents, Bob and Deen Allen. She had also recently begun dating the man who is now her husband, Rick Schirmer, who helped her move.

She was adjusting to a new chapter in her life in 2011 when she discovered a lump in her left breast during a self-examination.

“I was just getting ready to have my first mammogram in two years,” she says. “Because of what’d I’d gone through with the divorce and having to get my daughter through high school, I neglected myself.”

On her father’s birthday in early November, biopsy results confirmed Schirmer’s breast cancer diagnosis.

“I just looked at it as ‘I’m going to survive,’” she says. “I had a brand new grandbaby, so I knew I wanted to fight to see her and watch her grow up, and I’ve been able to do that.”

Knowing that she would no longer be the same after her cancer battle, Schirmer says she offered Rick the opportunity to leave their relationship.

“My [future] husband, with tears in his eyes, said ‘I can’t believe you could think I could be that shallow,’” she says. “That Christmas he asked me to marry him knowing that I was fixing to go through a pretty big struggle.”

Schirmer opted for a lumpectomy, but later learned the cancer cells had infiltrated more of her tissue. That led to a double mastectomy and chemotherapy from January to April of 2012. (She ultimately retired after 30 years as a state employee because of the effects of treatment.)

She married Rick in September that same year, then underwent radiation treatment the following year. Now, she’s a cancer survivor of seven years.

Schirmer credits her family for their roles as caregivers during the ordeal, especially for the toll chemotherapy took on her, and drawing strength in prayer.

“I was very blessed. The good Lord put me with my husband, put me with my parents so I had them,” says Schirmer, a member of Mt. Yonah Baptist Church. “Through everything I’ve been through, I can see God’s hand in it.”

Schirmer advocates for regular screenings, as well as for others to get educated about breast cancer and its symptoms. (Her mother was diagnosed a year and a half after herself, though it was detected early. She is also a survivor.)

Schirmer says she continues to strive for a healthier lifestyle as a cancer survivor – and she’s getting to enjoy time with her daughter, Alex Fuller, and granddaughter, Emma Eason.

“I didn’t dwell on [the diagnosis] as being a death sentence,” she says. “I was determined I was going to fight it, and I had a lot of faith in the doctors I was going to.”