The Immortality of Janet Schuler

Scott Westerman
6 min readMay 24, 2019
Janet Brunt Schuller

I had heard about Janet Schuler long before we first met face to face. By the time our paths crossed, she was a legend.

My wife, Colleen, and I were sitting in the waiting area where the University of Michigan oncologists practice.

She and Janet shared something in common: They were ovarian cancer survivors.

Many of the faces here have eyes with the dark circles of sleepless nights and foreheads lined with tributaries of concern that have stories to tell.

The caregivers are trying their best to project strength. I know different. Inside we are terrified.

“Hey,” Colleen said, “There’s Janet!”

Life is a constant negotiation with death. We are good at ignoring it while we are young and invincible. Inevitably, the passage of time and the awareness that more and more people our age are manifesting mortality burns through the facade we try so hard to project. The ticking clock gets louder as we process the reality that we, too will ultimately walk the same path as the people we are here to support.

You never got that feeling around Janet Brunt Schuler. Yes, she was honest with everyone about her condition. Few survived advanced ovarian cancer as long as she had when I put the face with the name that day. She was at ease with being candid about the frightening facts of her situation. But Janet truly understood that each day was a gift. She was determined to wring every last moment out of it, for better or worse.

It would be easy for someone with her diagnosis to descend into victimhood. Those who do die quickly. Colleen continually inspired me throughout her two encounters with the monster. There was never any doubt in my wife’s mind that she would be given more time to enjoy her family, her grandchildren and the 1,100 students who were her charge in her role as a house mom at Michigan State’s Wonders Hall.

And so it was with Janet.

“We are all going to run out of time,” she told me. “I just have a clearer understanding of how much may be left.” She squinted as if she had a secret, revealing a pair of mischievous dimples. “I will spend it wisely.”