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'I have too much to look forward to' | A tribute to Oaks Day survivors

Both Mollie Phelps and Kathy Schmitt are featured survivors for this year's Kentucky Oaks. Due to COVID-19, they won't walk the track until next year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Mollie Phelps and Kathy Schmitt have never met. And yet, they're connected by a journey that began for both of them a little more than two years ago. They received a breast cancer diagnosis. Neither knew of any family history, but both skipped out on that last mammogram.

"I did skip a year, to tell you the truth. I just was busy and I will tell anybody, don't get too busy for your yearly physicals and mammograms. It's not worth it," Phelps said.

"I couldn't make an appointment once, and then I didn't get back in. So, I was kind of relying on self-checks," Schmitt said.

Their diagnosis came within months of one another, back in 2018.

"I found a lump in my left breast," Schmitt said.

Schmitt's doctors were quick to schedule chemo, a lumpectomy and radiation.

"I didn't even hear what he said afterwards. It went in one ear and out the other. I was shocked," she said.

"I was emotionless," Phelps said. "The day before, my dad had passed."

Phelps didn't want to take any chances. She opted for a mastectomy followed by chemo. Her entire family cheered her on from the waiting room the day of surgery.

"The doctor said that was the most family he'd ever seen for support after surgery," Phelps said.

When Schmitt wasn't leaning on her family, she was out on the water.

"The Derby City Dragons was one of the big positives. I met so many women. It's a dragon boat team full of breast cancer survivors," she said.

Their treatments proved successful, though both say medicine wasn't the only factor in their fight.

"You gotta have faith. That's what's pulled me through this. God will pull me through this," Phelps said. "And make sure you surround yourself with nothing but positive people and positive thinking. I have too much to look forward to."

Today, both Phelps and Schmitt are featured survivors in this year's Kentucky Oaks Day Survivor's Parade. Nominated last year during COVID, the walk didn't happen then, and still isn't today.

"I've been told it's an amazing experience. Enjoy the day and wear your most crazy outlandish outfit," Schmitt said.

This year, they'll celebrate from home, with goodie bags from Churchill Downs, confident next year, they'll make it to the track.

"I know it's a good feeling just to be able to say I'm alive and being able to witness it," Phelps said.

Churchill Downs says all 146 survivors are invited to return in person for next year's parade, for the full 'rightfully deserved' experience. You can see the full list of honored survivors here.

Nominations for the next Survivor's Parade won't happen until 2023.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.

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