One month following the death of Vital Options International (VOI) Founder and CEO Selma R. Schimmel from malignant psoas syndrome -- a complication of the recurrent ovarian cancer diagnosis for which she was undergoing treatment -- I spoke with Schimmel’s sister, Debby Bitticks, about the future of the Los Angeles-area-based not-for-profit cancer communications organization that was uniquely identified through its unforgettable patient advocate founder.
Bitticks said that following approval by VOI’s Board of Directors last week, the organization will continue with her as President and Chair of its Board, and Terry Wilcox as Executive Director.
Previously, Bitticks had been serving as Board Chair with Wilcox as Creative Director under Schimmel’s leadership.
“Following Selma’s death I was so taken with the number of people who contacted me throughout the world about how Selma had helped them, that I felt a huge commitment to continue her legacy,” Bitticks said.
She said that the organization would be honoring all of its commitments throughout 2014, including producing an Advocacy in Action program at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting at the end of September in Madrid, and would begin planning and seeking funding for 2015.
“There are no guarantees in life, but I will do everything possible to protect my sister’s legacy and continue her work,” she said, adding that if VOI was unable to continue its mission alone, it might seek a future merger with appropriate international groups.
Bitticks noted that Schimmel died at age 59, the same age that both their mother and maternal grandmother died from ovarian cancer.
Schimmel had started her advocacy career as a young breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 28, and years later learned that she was BRCA1 positive.
This prompted additional family testing, said Bitticks, who also tested positive and had breast cancer later in life, causing her to contact her cousins, the offsprings of her mother’s two brothers -- “Two of them were also positive and planned prophylactic oophorectomies and double mastectomies,” she said.
A celebration of Schimmel’s life is scheduled for August 10 in Studio City, Calif. The event is free and open to the public. Further information will be available next week at vitaloptions.org.