Steve's Run speaker: ‘There is life after cancer’

06/28/2019 - 3pm
Emmy and Kelly Rickert with their family

Breast-cancer survivor Emmy Rickert beat such miraculous odds, People magazine profiled her twice after the births of the first two of her three children. Rickert will be the guest speaker for the 2019 Steve’s Run on July 27 at Southwestern Michigan College.

Grace’s May 15, 2015, arrival filled Rickert with “joy and gratitude that I survived. Seeing that miracle reminded me even more how precious and fragile life was. I started to do as many speaking engagements as I could, trying to help as many people diagnosed, or battling cancer, as I could. I felt driven to let people know there is life after cancer.”

“I am doing wonderfully,” said Rickert, who lives in Pinckney, between Lansing and Ann Arbor. “Six years out and hopefully countless more! As a person of faith, I am THANKFUL for my hardships. I have been given a gift.  I have the ability to touch and be a light for others as they face these hardships. I consider it a joy to hold their hands and their hearts. It is true ‘cancer patient’ is never a group you want to join, but once you are part of it you know you could never find more loving and supportive friends. We live every day with utter gratitude!”

She lost her Aunt Jodi to breast cancer in 2013 after a five-year battle. Two weeks later, at 24, Rickert found herself waging the same war while still grieving the loss of her mother two years before to a brain aneurysm. Her father underwent a heart transplant seven months before her mom died.

The 2009 Central Michigan University graduate was working as state Sen. Darwin Booher’s legislative aide when she felt a bruise. The regular exerciser figured she had pulled a muscle, but given her aunt’s ordeal, insisted it be checked. Rickert needed immediate surgery. Doctors told her the aggressive cancer grew a centimeter in two weeks between the ultrasound and surgery, but hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes.

“I remember my initial meeting with my oncologist,” Rickert said. “They handed me the paper about my proposed chemo medications. Infertility topped the list. There was very little I could control after my diagnosis, but I decided my attitude and will to fight would be something that would remain mine. I called that very day to The Fertility Center in Grand Rapids to ensure I could freeze eggs; I was able to freeze nine! Knowing I would be a mom gave me the hope I needed to make it through what lay ahead.

“Flash forward six years and I have a 4-year-old named Grace Angelin after my mom, a 2-year-old named Huck (‘my mom taught literature. She loved Mark Twain so the name is a nod to her and her beautiful mind and wit’) and a 1-year-old, Boone. They are truly miracles, my rainbows after the storm!”

“After my mom died, I was so incredibly sad,” Rickert said. “It was such a devastating period of my life. Kelly contacted me to ask if my dad would be attending NASCAR that summer. He and my dad both love fishing and NASCAR!” She and her husband dated in college, but separated for two years while Emmy focused on “making myself happy again.” The man who was a “perfect match from the beginning” never left her thoughts. When Kelly called in April 2014 he “told me he never stopped loving me and thought of me every single day. The love between us has only grown tenfold.”

They wanted to have a baby as soon as they married in case getting pregnant took time, but they were able to conceive naturally. “I look forward to donating my frozen eggs to someone in need,” she said.

Rickert, who leaves for a Ugandan orphanage two days after speaking in Dowagiac, studied comparative politics at CMU, earning bachelor’s and a master’s degree focused on East Africa. “My mom lit my passion for human rights and history when she had me read The Diary of Anne Frank at a young age. My fervor only grew from there! In my last class with my favorite professor and thesis mentor, Dr. Sterling Johnson asked me if I wanted to travel to Ethiopia and Kenya with him as an assistant to garner funding for small village hospitals. My immediate response was, ‘When do we leave?’

“To say Africa holds a place in my heart would be such a shortfall in words,” Rickert said. “Upon my mom’s death, I wanted to focus on helping others. I traveled to an orphanage in Kenya called Huruma Children’s Home. I felt my heart healing as I loved on those children who also lost their mothers. Upon returning, I started paperwork for a non-profit called the Hope for Huruma Foundation. I have stepped down as executive director and am a board member.”

She and her best friend, younger sister Abby, “have been through the unthinkable together and have held each other up, mentally and physically. She just had her first baby!”

Visit stevesrun.swmich.edu for online registration for the 45th Steve’s Run July 27 at 8:30 a.m. on SMC’s Dowagiac campus. The race honors the son of former SMC President David C. Briegel and begins and ends in front of the Briegel Building. The Original Road and Trail Race consists of a 10K run, 5K walk/run and fun run; 2018’s 415 runners raised $8,000. Of $120,000 raised in the last 10 years, $60,000 went to cancer research and $60,000 to Steven Briegel Memorial Scholarships, of which five in the amount of $1,078 each will be awarded this fall.