Coping with Colorectal Cancer: A Parent’s Perspective

naomi ziva unicorn costumeAccording to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women. Parents and guardians are never fully prepared to hear news that their child has a life-threatening illness like colorectal cancer.


Hal and Miriam Schmerer know this situation all too well as their daughter, Naomi Ziva, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer at the age of 43.

“Naomi has always been an independent go-getter, so when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it was hard for her to give up some of that independence and come back home,” says Hal Schmerer.

In 2016, Naomi was on a family vacation in Europe when she started having serious abdominal pain. When she arrived back to the U.S., her parents say she drove herself to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with Stage 4 colorectal cancer. The cancer spread from her colon to her liver, lungs, and partially to her spine.


naomi ziva grinch costumeAfter being diagnosed, Naomi was determined that if she had to undergo chemotherapy she was going to try to take the drudgery out of it and insert some fun. Naomi was known at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Johns Creek for dressing up in costumes with her friend Jennifer at every infusion appointment. Her family says she wanted to bring some joy to others fighting cancer.

Hal says his daughter’s positivity helped draw in other patients and momentarily take their mind off of the pain they were experiencing.

“We heard that a patient told one of the nurses to schedule them for chemo whenever the ‘woman who wears the costumes’ comes, too,” says Miriam Schmerer.

Naomi’s family says they’re thankful for the care from physicians, like Winship medical oncologist Bassel El Rayes, MD, and the nurses at Winship who helped her get through some very dark days.

During one hospital stay, Naomi suffered incredible pain from chemotherapy affecting her kidneys.

“She was unable to get more pain medicine for a while because of her condition,” says Hal. “One of the Winship nurses, Alex Howze, sat with her while we went to get dinner, he held her hand and talked with her until she felt better.”

After a hard-fought battle with cancer, Naomi passed away in March 2018. Her family credits the staff at Winship, the community, and their family and friends for constant support during this devastating time.


“Our neighbors were generous enough to raise $6,000 for Naomi’s medical expenses,” says Hal. “We’re so thankful for our synagogue, neighbors and Naomi’s friends who helped support us by cooking meals, organizing her belongings and spending time with us.”

Naomi’s parents offer advice below for parents or caregivers of adults fighting cancer:

  • Never give up hope.
  • Prepare to deal with high and low points, including challenges of insurance companies and bad days your child will experience.
  • Try to reduce your own anxiety and depression.
  • Take care of yourself; eat right and get your rest.
  • Find a support group of other parents and caregivers.
  • Offer guidance and wisdom, but allow your child to make their own health care decisions.
  • Find a way to continue your child’s legacy.

Naomi’s parents compiled all of her photos, blogs and poetry about her cancer journey into a book called Waiting for the Next Blue Sky. They say this project helped them cope but also keep their daughter’s spirit alive.

“I want the world to remember that Naomi loved to encourage others,” says Hal. “Cancer didn’t define her; it gave her a new outlook and understanding on life to cherish each moment.”

Learn More

Talk to your primary care physician about your risk of colorectal cancer and to determine if you should schedule a colonoscopy. At Winship Cancer Institute, we’re committed to advancing the standard of care for all our patients, including those diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. Learn more about our colorectal cancer treatment program or schedule an appointment with our gastrointestinal specialists by calling (404) 778-1900.

Talk to Our Nurses

Emory HealthConnection is where registered nurses can help you find a location or specialist that’s right for you. Call 404-778-7777 from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST (M-F).

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Seeing over 17,000 patients a year, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and serves as the coordinating center for cancer research, education and care throughout Emory University.


Tags: ,