Providing comfort and connection through a home-cooked meal

June 6, 2023 Chelsey Sleator
Chris Snowardt explains how a sudden diagnosis caused him to rededicate his life to helping others battling cancer.

This April, Chris Snowardt prepared a meal and swapped stories with families facing cancer as a volunteer at the Hope Lodge® in Omaha, Nebraska. As a cancer survivor himself, he understood that something as simple as a home-cooked meal can bring great comfort when everything else feels uncertain. It was a deeply personal experience that Chris probably wouldn’t have done prior to his cancer diagnosis. But cancer changes everything.

Grappling with a surprise diagnosis

On May 21, 2012, Chris was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. “I got hit out of left field,” explains Chris. “I’d just run the Lincoln Marathon. I did hill intervals the morning of my colonoscopy. I felt great and was probably in the best shape of my life.”

But cancer can be unpredictable. And Chris grappled with the news. “I was very, very private about it when I first got sick,” he explains. “But over time, I learned that talking about it was therapeutic for me. And when I started talking about it at work, I learned that sharing what I’m going through and who I am outside of work made me a more effective leader.”

Chris is a 20+ year employee of Ameritrade and now Charles Schwab, which acquired Ameritrade in 2019. He says he felt unconditionally supported by his Ameritrade colleagues, who gave him the space to prioritize his health, and he’s continued to feel the support at Schwab, where he’s been given opportunities to share his story and expand his volunteerism.

What happens after cancer?

In June of 2013 Chris finished his last cancer treatment. He feels lucky that his chemo and surgery were a success, but remission put him at another new turning point in his life. “After I was done with my chemo, I swear I woke up and everyone had moved on,” Chris explains. “But after having lived every day for the last year-and-a-half of my life revolving around cancer, how was I just supposed to move on? I was left wondering, ‘What the heck should I do with this experience?’”

Before cancer, volunteering was something Chris did maybe one time a year when it was organized through work. But something switched. One day, he found himself pulling into the parking lot of the Great Plains Colon Cancer Task Force intending to volunteer. But, being a self-described introvert, Chris proceeded to immediately back out and go home. When he eventually got the nerve to actually enter the building, he opened himself up to a whole new world of volunteering.

Chris joined the Great Plains Colon Cancer Task Force where he led a bike ride, a 5k run, and supported a burpee challenge that raised $30k a year for local colon cancer awareness. And while he felt like he was making an impact with the colon cancer community, he recognized that there was a wider community of cancer survivors that he wanted to help.

So, in 2017 he got involved with the Omaha chapter of the American Cancer Society, eventually also joining the board. It was right when they were about to open the Hope Lodge in downtown Omaha, which provides a free place to stay for cancer patients and their caregivers during treatment, allowing them focus on getting better while benefitting from a community going through the same journey.

It was here that at the Hope Lodge, that Chris continued his dedication to volunteerism by bringing a group of Schwab employees together to provide the comfort of a home-cooked meal. The residents were thankful for the chicken fettuccine, salad, and cupcakes, and Chris was thankful for the connection he made with a woman from Iowa who was receiving treatment for rectal cancer. Before they left, he gave them his phone number and encouraged them to reach out. “That moment alone made it all worth it,” he explains. “I look for any way to support people going through cancer. Just like I was supported.”