On 9/11/2001, I was working as an FBI Special Agent when the horrific terrorist attack on U.S. soil occurred, shocking the world. I, along with hundreds of other first responders, was deployed to the Pentagon to search for and collect evidence, human remains, and personal effects in a smoldering and dangerous environment with minimal protective equipment, especially during the first several days. Sixteen years later, in January 2017, as a result of being exposed to toxic fumes at that site, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and related kidney failure. Chemotherapy and dialysis were begun within weeks of each other, and though the cancer responded well, the kidneys did not recover, and I endured dialysis for 4 years until receiving a kidney transplant in January 2021, thanks to my own persistence and a dear and selfless college friend who donated her kidney so I could receive one.
Shortly after the kidney transplant, as my overall health and energy level improved, I began to research ways to inspire myself to improve my fitness, bring awareness to this cancer and the other 9/11 illnesses, and to contribute to finding a cure. I discovered the MMRF and Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM) events and have since participated virtually in the MMRF 2021 and 2022 Washington, DC Walk/Run. I am also planning to apply for a MM4MM trekking event as soon as the right opportunity presents itself.
I chose to participate in the MMRF Walk/Run events in 2021 and 2022 for several reasons. First and foremost, it was to inspire and demonstrate the resilience of those who are alive and fighting Multiple Myeloma and, frankly, to inspire anyone just having a bad day. I see exercise and outdoor activities as being an integral part of good physical and mental health and an especially good benefit to anyone who is facing a crisis. These events are an opportunity to share that and encourage others to take part as well.
Fundraising to find a cure for Multiple Myeloma also adds a measure of control over having a currently incurable and unpredictable illness. Living every day, knowing this cancer will likely come back, is stressful, so I try my best to live every day to the fullest. I have hope that if the cancer returns, there will be a cure, and most importantly, maybe I will have had something to do with finding that cure.
I do these and other charity events in memory and honor of the FBI employees and so many others who continue to fight or who have died from serious illnesses as a result of being exposed to the toxic environment at the 9/11 crash and processing sites, with special honor to those with Multiple Myeloma.
The Multiple Myeloma Support Group to which I belong has so many members fighting this complex illness in various stages. Participation in this charity is also a celebration of their great collective life-saving knowledge, encouragement, perseverance, and belief that a cure will be found during our lifetimes.
Since recovering from the kidney transplant in 2021, I have done numerous presentations and news interviews telling my story, including the stories of two other FBI Agents who lost their battles to Multiple Myeloma (also due to 9/11) before I was even diagnosed, to bring awareness to the 9/11 illnesses. To be honest, public speaking does not come naturally to me, but I feel compelled to “put myself out there” to remember the many thousands of 9/11 first responders and others who have died or who are currently suffering from rare, complicated, painful, and sometimes numerous illnesses because of their service or because of where they lived and worked during the months following that horrific day. Some are just being diagnosed, and many have yet to be diagnosed. Statistics indicate that many more people have died from 9/11 related illnesses to date than were killed on that one day (not to minimize those who died that day at all), and that only counts the people who have reported their illnesses. There are so many more who are sick and will become sick who don’t know and may never know that it is because of 9/11.
In 2021, I committed myself to simply being able to complete the MMRF Walk/Run at a satisfactory pace for someone in remission from Multiple Myeloma who had had a kidney transplant 9 months prior! In 2022, I committed to a goal of not only improving my time but also to raise $3,500 for the MMRF. The response I received from those I reached out to was amazing, unexpected, and overwhelming! In the end, my fundraising goal was not only surpassed but almost doubled. The MMRF is the premier nonprofit organization in the world tasked with researching and finding a cure for this complex cancer. I am proud and thrilled to be able to continue to contribute to its cutting edge work this year in furtherance of new treatment therapies and, ultimately, “accelerating a cure for each and every multiple myeloma patient.”
The honor of receiving the MMRF Spirit of Hope award in 2023 truly encompasses everything, and more, that I set out to do after my kidney transplant – to inspire others fighting this illness, to contribute to finding a cure, and to allow me the opportunity of reaching thousands of people nationwide with a message of hope and remembrance for all the victims of the 9/11 related cancers and other illnesses. This award is important to me, but it is not about me. It is dedicated to all whose health was impacted by 9/11.
Our children, who were 9 and 13 when I was diagnosed, have been the main inspiration for me to survive. I strive to set an example for them, teaching them the benefits of perseverance, faithfulness, strength, and positivity in the face of unimaginable health or other challenges.
Additionally, not long after I was diagnosed, I became friends with the wives of two FBI Agents who had already passed from Multiple Myeloma due to 9/11. I found their strength, faith and families to be extraordinary. Their stories have inspired me to live the best life I can and to make a positive difference in the world, in honor of their lives so well lived.
Lastly, I have many family members and friends from church, work, and from throughout my life, to include the special friend who donated her kidney for me, who have lifted me up and supported our family when we were in need. Those who gave me rides, attended medical appointments with me, provided meals when I was too tired to cook, and offered special prayers before the most critical tests and procedures inspired me to persevere through all the medical appointments, bone marrow biopsies, dialysis, multiple hospitalizations, physical pain and discomfort, and mental anguish over the uncertainly of my future. I am grateful for my faith in God which has undergirded me during the most difficult times and daily through all of life’s ups and downs.
To be honest, “perseverance” and “persistence” have become my favorite words, and the Serenity Prayer, my favorite prayer. I have many favorite inspirational books and extensive favorite playlists of music that I listen to when exercising, when I need to be energized, or even when I need to relax. My favorite lyrics change from day-to-day depending on my mood. At the moment of writing this, I am thinking that “I Will Not Go Quietly.”
The most important things that I have learned since being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in January 2017, as posted by me on social media circa February 2022, are:
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is delighted to recognize Lauren Schuler as the MMRF Spirit of Hope Honoree at the 2023 MMRF Team for Cures: Washington, D.C. Walk/Run.
This award is presented at every Walk/Run to a patient, caregiver, or family who inspires hope through their resilience, perseverance, and dedication to the MMRF and its mission. Donate to Lauren Schuler’s 2023 Walk/Run fundraising page to accelerate a cure today!