Thursday, June 4, 2020
Geri and Jim Schiller have been chosen as two of this year’s SACS Honorees. Herald photo by Nicole Vik.

Schiller named as repeat SACS Honoree 20 years later

Geri Schiller is an important face with the Sparta Area Cancer Support. Not only was she one of the original nine board members who were key in establishing the organization 20 years ago, but she was also the very first SACS Honoree. 

As SACS celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Geri will once again be a SACS Honoree, alongside her husband of 56 years, Jim. “This is quite an honor,” Geri said. 

Geri, who was born in Cashton in 1943, was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in June of 1990. She had found a lump in her throat, which she went and had checked. 

At the time, Geri’s doctors didn’t initially do a biopsy of the mass, hoping it was benign. After she had surgery to remove the lump, her doctors discovered it was in fact a malignant tumor and Geri had to have a second surgery to completely remove her thyroid. 

Geri did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation at the time and she was cancer free until March 2016. She was suffering from heartburn and what doctors thought was likely just acid reflux. 

They performed an endoscopy where they inserted a small tube with a camera through her mouth into her esophagus to see the lining of her esophagus and stomach. That’s when doctors discovered Geri had cancer again, in her stomach this time. 

She underwent another surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN. Her doctors were able to get all of the cancer and Geri did not have to undergo any additional treatment at that time. 

Following her surgery, Geri had CT scans every three months and during one of the routine scans, in November 2017, doctors found that the cancer had returned in her stomach and this time, it was inoperable. 

On the same day she found out she had gastrointestinal cancer; the doctors discovered that Geri had breast cancer as well. “I just thought, ‘This can’t be,’ but you just deal with it I guess,” Geri said.

In December of 2017, Geri started seven rounds of chemotherapy. “That was tough,” she recalled. “But the doctors tell me I’m a tough lady.” 

Her doctors told her that the chemo would shrink the cancer, but not kill it completely and that she would most likely have to live with it. 

At her last scan about two months ago, Geri’s doctors told her that the cancer had shrunk. She takes a chemo pill every day and is scheduled to go back for another scan in July and for now, she is living with her cancer. 

“I have days when I’m tired, but otherwise I feel pretty good,” she said. “Most days are good days.” 

Jim was born in Sparta in 1942. On his 75th birthday, he retired after many years as a truck driver and shortly afterwards Geri was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

In February, Jim went to the doctor for a black spot on his nose. The doctor felt he should have it checked out by a dermatologist who discovered Jim had a melanoma. 

Jim underwent four surgeries at the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse to have the cancer removed and has since healed nicely. Since the doctors felt they were able to remove all of the cancer, Jim didn’t need chemo. 

“He’s doing well now,” Geri said, adding Jim will have an appointment around October when they are hoping to be able to pronounce him cancer free.  

Geri lost her mother and two sisters to cancer over 30 years ago as well as a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Because of that, Geri felt like she wanted to get involved with SACS.

Geri retired in 2005 at the age of 62 from St. Patrick’s School in Sparta after working several years as a cook. She continued volunteering with SACS until 2018 when she decided to step down from the board.

“I just felt like I couldn’t contribute anymore. I wasn’t feeling that good and I thought they needed someone more active than I could be,” Geri said, adding that Joanne Bohnert took her place. “I miss it, but when you can’t do it, you can’t do it.” 

Geri and Jim have had a fundraising team since the very first year of the annual SACS Walk/Rally. One of the biggest sponsors to their team every year since the walk began has been the Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, to whom they are very grateful. 

Their daughter, Jamie Adams, who teaches business education and marketing at Sparta High School, helps to get her students involved in the fundraising effort for SACS as well. 

“She always has a SACS week for the kids,” Geri said. “She was also a very good help to us when we were diagnosed and she is always right there helping us.”

When the original board members started the organization in 2000, they didn’t put much thought into what would be in store for SACS 20 years later. 

“I guess it never entered my mind because I automatically thought we would still be here 20 years later,” Geri said. “It’s wonderful that we’ve gotten bigger.”

According to Geri, SACS raised $62,000 its first year and last year the organization raised $130,000.

With the cancellation of the SACS Walk/Rally this year, Jim and Geri are hoping the organization is still able to raise funds to help support local individuals and families facing the battle with cancer.

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