Schmit has lymphoma, but outlook is 'very good'

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2008 - 9:12 AM

The former KSTP-TV sports anchor has a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that doctors say can be managed.

Joe Schmit

Joe Schmit thought something might be wrong nine months ago when he noticed a lump on his chest that was about the size of a marble.

"My doctor thought it was a fatty deposit, but he said to be safe he wanted me to see a surgeon," Schmit said. "The surgeon looked at it and said, 'It's a fatty deposit that we can leave in or cut out, but I wouldn't worry about it.' So I didn't."

But a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester did worry when Schmit, the former sports anchor at KSTP-TV, underwent a physical. When an ultrasound proved inconclusive, Schmit returned for a biopsy on May 8. Schmit spent that weekend fishing and playing golf with friends, never giving a thought to the procedure. On May 13, he received a call from the doctor: Schmit had MALT lymphoma. "That's the day my life changed," he said.

MALT lymphoma is an uncommon form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Most lymphomas occur in lymph nodes, but this one arises from lymph tissue present in the lining of some other organs of the body.

Schmit, 50, was told that this was "not a death sentence" and that it could be managed. The Health A to Z website says the prognosis for patients with MALT lymphomas is good, with overall five-year survival rates that are greater than 80 percent.

"My outlook is very good," said Schmit, who spent most of his 21 1/2 years at KSTP working in sports before leaving in July 2006 to become president of Petters Media and Marketing Group and the John T. Petters Foundation. "I'll never be cured of it, but it will be manageable. I think I'll die of something else."

Schmit will undergo 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy, including 4 1/2 months of "severe intense stuff." He then will receive two weeks of treatment once every six months for the next two years. He doesn't have to start chemo until late August and can spend the summer enjoying time with his wife, Laura, and their kids, Natalie, 16; Gaby, 13; and Matthew, 11.

Schmit left KSTP so he could be with his family more often and has no plans to give up his role as the coach of Gaby's 14-and-under traveling softball team in Bloomington or making regular trips to the cabin.

Schmit hired a personal trainer to help him improve his strength and said he feels so good physically that "there are times I don't know if I'm really sick." His attitude is partially shaped by news he received two weeks before his own diagnosis when a close friend found out his 5-year-old son had leukemia.

"I know my buddy would trade spots with [his son], and if this happened to me instead of one of my kids that's fine," Schmit said. "If this was one of my kids I'd be a basket case, but right now I have a calm over me that's hard to explain.

"My reality is that lymphoma is a very complicated disease, and it reacts differently to everybody. The good news is that what I have is low grade. The bad news is I will have it the rest of my life. Whether or not it impacts my lifestyle, that's yet to be determined."

Fine-tuning

• The six NBA Finals games between Boston and the Lakers on local ABC affiliate KSTP (Ch. 5) had an 8.2 rating in the Twin Cities, placing this market 38th among the 56 metered markets in the country. Nationally, the series averaged a 9.3 rating, up 51 percent over the all-time low of 6.2 established last year when San Antonio swept Cleveland.

• Wolves coach Randy Wittman will be in-studio to discuss the upcoming NBA draft on KMSP's prime-time sports show at 10:15 p.m. Sunday.

• The Big Ten Network will air 24 consecutive hours of sports programming related to the University of Minnesota on Monday.

Judd Zulgad • jzulgad@startribune.com

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