Barbara Schemmel and Becky Byrum met standing on either side of a track as a man made his way around for the 2000 Relay for Life’s survivor lap, despite not being able to feel his feet after having chemotherapy that day.
Schemmel and Byrum followed him around that survivor’s lap, clapping the whole way, cheering and crying. The man was long-time Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce president and Schemmel’s father Dick James.
James and his wife both had breast cancer, and Schemmel herself would have the disease pretty much from 2004 on.
Schemmel became a role model for those fighting through cancer, as she not only continued to provide the students of the Newton County School System with a safe ride as bus driver for 19 years, but also took on multiple diagnoses. Schemmel’s fight led her to being named the Honorary Chair for the 2014 Relay for Life in Covington.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, and fought through it, until passing away on Feb. 27 of this year.
“I remember the exact day when she told me the very first time,” said her daughter Rebecca Pickens. “We were at the doctor’s office, she was crying and she told me she had cancer. It was horrible and devastating.”
Then in February of 2009 was diagnosed again, with cancer in 19 of her lymph nodes. Five months later, in July, she learned it had metastasized into her spine and was rated as a stage four.
That diagnosis meant it could not be cured.
“She was prepared to live with it, even though stage four is usually the end,” Pickens said.
The cancer had spread through to Schemmel’s bones, making most movements uncomfortable. It then reached her brain, where she had to have it radiated. Then she had spots on her lungs and, last year, on her liver, needing a surgery to put chemotherapy treatments directly on the organ.
Through all that, Schemmel continued to work and continued to be her normal self.
“As far as anyone would know, other than losing her hair and eyelashes, you would never know,” Byrum said. “She never had any gate problems, or anything like that, you would never know she was fighting cancer.”
Schemmel also continued doing her job, driving students to and from school, nearly every day.
“Up until two years ago she never missed a day of driving her bus,” Stanton said. “She would do chemo on Friday afternoon; recover until Monday when she picked her kids up in the morning.”
Schemmel also got to see Pickens get married, and the birth of her two grandchildren, Joseph, 5, and Aubrey, 8 months. Pickens said she will continue to carry on the legacy of her mother, telling her children all about their grandmother.
“We have pictures all over the house to remind them who she was and what a great woman she was,” Pickens said.
Pickens, too, will carry on her mother’s courage.
“She just kept fighting,” Pickens said. “She was the strongest person I ever knew.”
Those gathered for the Relay for Life will get to learn of that courage, not through Schemmel’s words but a Power Point presentation she was going to make to kick off the event. They will also see her name emblazoned on the back of the relay 2014 T-shirt and a few gifts for Joseph and Aubrey to commemorate their grandmother.
“She was honored to be chair, but nervous to speak in front of everyone,” Pickens said. “Everything she has been through, isn’t something really to be proud of but, she was a fighter and a good role model for someone who is going through what she went through.”