CLEMSON — Two pesky strands of hair cling to the collar of Clate Schmidt’s orange polyester polo, and another rests on his shoulder.
As if he needed more reminders, the downtrodden would say.
“At least I haven’t gone bald,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt remains nothing but positive, taking his health scare in stride. The 21-year-old cancer patient is proud to return on this day in late July to the first-base dugout at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, where he’s spent his last three springs and will return for one more in 2016 — once Schmidt strikes out Hodgkin’s lymphoma, of course.
With his father Dwight looking on while leaning over the dugout rail, Clate sat on the top bench updating reporters Tuesday on his condition. He has a few more tests to undergo, along with three weeks of daily radiation, and then is expected to be cleared to participate in Clemson’s fall practices in late August.
Schmidt can only work on his mechanics and light lifting. Because there’s a delicate “port” inserted on the right side of his neck, he can’t yet throw a baseball. That, too, will take time.
As a naturally impatient person, Schmidt is grateful for a new perspective.
“When you go through something that revamps your lifestyle, diet and exercise habits, it’s given me such a grand outlook on life,” Schmidt said. “You can’t take anything for granted. Just being able to walk on a field again is exciting.”
The story of Schmidt’s diagnosis and treatment offers a teachable moment for young people who don’t believe cancer could find them.
Schmidt broke his nose playing basketball in high school, suffering a deviated septum. He was cautioned, after a procedure to correct his nasal passage, to watch out for infection.
This past January, Schmidt noticed a bump on his neck. It did not disappear in following months, leading to Schmidt’s eventual prognosis of nodular sclerosis in early June – the day after Schmidt’s junior season with Clemson ended.
“When you’re 21 years old, you’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof,” Dwight Schmidt said. “The good thing was, he didn’t feel a bump and say, ‘hey, it’s just a bump.’”
What the Schmidts learned from one of Clate’s idols, Cubs ace and cancer survivor Jon Lester, was attentiveness to early symptoms saved Schmidt from months of aggravation, if not his life. Lester had Type 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, requiring a year’s recovery; Schmidt was diagnosed with Stage 2, and could be back on the field within a few months.
“He was very lucky that he got on top of it,” Dwight said, “otherwise, he’d be in a lot of trouble.
“Whether you’re 16, 18, or 68, if you find something, you’ve got to check it.”
Between getting drafted by the Red Sox, hanging out with Lester at a Braves game, and being featured in Major League Baseball’s “Stand Up 2 Cancer” promotion during All-Star Weekend, Schmidt’s summer has been one wild roller-coaster ride.
“I would say ‘blown away’ is an understatement, to experience things people don’t get to experience in a lifetime,” Schmidt said. “It’s been an incredible journey, whether it’s the lowest of lows or highest of highs.”
Acceptance, Schmidt said, lifted him out of his lowest point. That moment when he noticed chunks of hair falling out in the shower, and then understanding everything will eventually be OK.
“Everyone thinks it’s a big deal, and in the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘why is this happening?’” Schmidt said. “But then you realize hair is something that grows back.”