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Mount Sinai Obituaries and Services » Selma Ruth Schimmel

Selma Ruth Schimmel

May 21, 2014

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Selma Ruth Schimmel, Founder and CEO of Vital Options International, a Los Angeles headquartered and internationally focused not-for-profit cancer communications organization with the mission, to facilitate a global cancer dialogue, has died. She was 59.

Schimmel died of complications from cancer, specifically malignant psoas syndrome, at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, surrounded by loved ones.

Selma is the daughter of Rabbi Meier Schimmel and Rebbetzin Rochelle Schimmel. It was profoundly important to her to keep her parents passion and legacy strong. She was a very engaged member of the board at Congregation Beth Meier, the first conservative synagogue in Studio City, her parents founded more than 50 years ago.

Schimmel originally founded Vital Options in 1983, following her own diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer at age 28. It was the first support and advocacy organization specifically targeted to address the unique emotional and psychosocial needs of young adults with cancer, between the ages of 17-early 40’s.

In the mid-1990’s, Selma recognized that more people were seeking cancer information and support online and she envisioned the opportunity for patients to speak directly with oncology thought leaders, using talk radio as the forum. The Group Room radio show was transformative, changing the way people talk about cancer. In 1999 Talkers Magazine named her one of the 100 most important radio talk-show hosts in America.

20 years after breast cancer, Schimmel was diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer and literally became the voice of survivorship. Schimmel’s book, Cancer Talk: Voices of Hope and Endurance from the Group Room, the World’s Largest Cancer Support Group, was published in 1999 by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, and also published in Chinese.

In 2000 Vital Options officially became an international charity based out of the American Hospital of Paris and run by Dr. Claude-Alain Planchon under the name Choix Vital.

A prominent figure in numerous cancer initiatives and public policy issues, and a recipient of many awards and citations, Schimmel served in leadership and advisory positions for cancer-related state, national and international organizations, committees and commissions, and was involved in various projects associated with Institute of Medicine, National Research Council, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institutes of Health. She was a member of C-Change and sat on the “Assuring Value in Cancer Care” Advisory Committee, a former vice president of the National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship, and a founding member of LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance Steering committee.

In recent years Schimmel had taken The Group Room and Advocacy in Action to video. Filming interviews and moderating panel discussions across the United States at every major oncology conference. Vital Options also serves as a content provider for the European Society For Medical Oncology (ESMO), filming at conferences throughout Europe.

Selma Schimmel was a passionate voice helping patents understand their clinical options and translating new research into hope and possibilities. This year she was awarded one of the C-Change Hidden Heroes awards- the 2014 George and Barbara Bush Collaboration Award.

Schimmel is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Debby and Ken Bitticks, four nieces, Shari, Michelle, Lynn, and Sandi and their husbands, as well as eight wonderful great-nieces and nephews.

A private burial is being held, but there will be a Memorial Celebration of Selma’s Life here in Los Angeles this summer. This will be open to everyone she touched through her work in cancer advocacy from around the world. We will send out a save-the-date notification as soon as those arrangements are made.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Vital Options International through VitalOptions.org or mailed to: Vital Options International, 17328 Ventura Blvd. #161, Encino, CA 91316