Be A Survivor: Breast Cancer | Colorectal Cancer

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Cancer Survivor Takes Control with Weight Loss

balance-blog-edited-melissa-fox-and-dr-reilandMelissa Fox admits it: she had a little “road rage” going after a follow-up appointment with her cancer surgeon.

The Spencer, Iowa mom of two had faced breast cancer, worked through the chemotherapy and surgery and was doing well. She knew she needed to lose some weight and began changing up her workout approaches. Fox enjoyed exercise, but she also enjoyed food. She was using free exercise apps on her phone, tuning into Youtube exercise videos and made progress.

When she returned to the office of Julie Reiland, MD, at the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, she got a warning.

“Dr. Reiland said that in the next two years, I would have a recurrence of the cancer, heart disease or diabetes unless I lost some weight,” Fox said. “My breast cancer was driven by hormones, and she said the weight could make the return of cancer more likely.”

She said her reaction, face-to-face, was fine, but her emotions changed when she was driving home.

“I had a little road rage, yes, and I was angry,” she said. “That news made me upset, and it took a little while, but once I got my mind wrapped around what she said, I realized she was right. I had lost 20 pounds before that meeting, but I knew I needed to do more.”

Fox said the stern warning led her to action. She thrives on proving folks wrong, she said, and she kept working out, adding long walks and weight training. She drank much more water, every day.

“I was going to be ready for the next meeting with her,” she said. “When I was facing cancer, one of the things I hated was the control it took from me, and so as I was exercising more and changing my diet, I was in control again, and that felt really good.”

The small changes worked and as Fox said, she “didn’t spend a dime” on programs for losing weight. It wasn’t exactly easy, but she dropped another 40 pounds after her talk with Reiland, who admitted the change was dramatic.

“When she did come back, I didn’t recognize her,” she said. “I was thrilled. I just hate having to tell people they need to lose weight. But there’s a higher risk for breast cancer when you’re heavier, so I’m really proud of what Melissa accomplished.”

Melissa Fox, second from left, celebrating with her family, which includes son, Cooper, her daughter, Cassidy and her fiancé, Andrew Christy, and Melissa's husband, Steve.

Melissa Fox, second from left, celebrating with her family, which includes son, Cooper, her daughter, Cassidy and her fiancé, Andrew Christy, and Melissa’s husband, Steve.

Reiland said her pride as a physician comes from knowing the difficult, daily work needed to get lighter.

“Sometimes it takes a crisis to get under way, but no one can be healthy for you or lose the weight for you,” said Reiland. “I got goose bumps when I realized she had turned the corner. There are breast cancers that feed off estrogen and additional body fat can lead to additional fuel for those cancers. So she did what she needed to do to reduce that risk.”

Fox said she’s happy about her new look, her higher levels of energy and the example she’s setting for her son and daughter. It’s been a year and she’s still 60 pounds lighter than she was.

“It takes counting calories and really focusing on it every day, with lots of long walks with the dog and lots of water – I probably drink 10 to 16 glasses a day,” Fox said. “It felt good to prove Dr. Reiland wrong, not in a mean way, but in a healthy way. I’m glad she confronted me because it was what I needed to get going.”

Mitchell Colon Cancer Patient; “Trust Your Care Team”

balance-blog-zimmerman-photo“Life is short, but after experiencing colon cancer, I realized life could be REAL short,” said Brad Zimmerman from Mitchell. “You never know when your number is up, so never take anything for granted.”

It started with a constant, dull pain in his lower left abdomen. Chalking it up to irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulitis, Zimmerman finally mentioned the pain when he visited his internal medicine physician after straining a disc in his spinal cord.

Jonathan Olegario, MD, of Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Mitchell, referred Zimmerman to Aaron Baas, MD, General Surgeon at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. Baas suggested starting Zimmerman with a colonoscopy, although he was only 45 at the time. Typically, colonoscopy screenings begin at age 50.

His screening took place on a Thursday, when everything seemed fine. The following Monday, Zimmerman received a phone call asking him and his wife to return to Avera Queen of Peace as soon as possible.

Fear crept in as they sat in the waiting room. “My heart dropped; I thought ‘this is the end,’” remembered Zimmerman. “I thought about my three kids, my wife and my business — what was going to happen to them?”

After receiving the diagnosis of colon cancer, Zimmerman was referred to Scott Baker, MD, general surgeon who has fellowship training in colorectal surgery at the Surgical Institute of South Dakota in Sioux Falls. A colon resection surgery removed about seven inches of bowel, along with 46 lymph nodes. Just one of those lymph nodes tested positive for cancer.

While Baker was confident the cancer was removed, a small chance existed that rogue cancerous cells could be floating in Zimmerman’s bloodstream. Referred to Benjamin Solomon, MD, hematologist/oncologist at Avera Medical Group Oncology & Hematology Sioux Falls, Zimmerman would undergo 12 rounds of chemotherapy.

“We described it as an ‘insurance policy’ to rid myself of any cancer that could be present in my body,” he said.

Rather than sitting for long hours in a hospital, Zimmerman received treatment intravenously through a chemotherapy pump. Attached in Sioux Falls, the pack pumped chemotherapy continuously into his bloodstream for 48 hours, then was removed at Avera Queen of Peace in Mitchell.

“The experience was awesome; I’m feeling happy and confident about the situation,” said Zimmerman. “The physicians and nurses at Avera were just phenomenal, so compassionate and focused on my comfort.”

Avera navigators also provided Zimmerman and his family peace of mind during treatment. Nurse navigators helped coordinate his care and answered lingering questions. “This program was such an asset; it’s what really got my family and me through the toughest moments.”

Cancer is a life-changing experience, as Zimmerman will attest. “I’m more reflective, compassionate and understanding. My heart is bigger.”

Today, Zimmerman visits Solomon for regular checkups to ensure cancer remains in his past. He advises others to get checked and stay calm if any abnormalities arise. “I know it’s tough, but try not to jump to the ‘worst case scenario.’ The people at Avera are knowledgeable and know what they’re doing. Have faith, lean on prayer, family, friends and your care team.”

Eight Toilet Paper Facts You Need to Know

Toilet paperIt’s Colon Cancer Awareness Month. What better time to learn a few fun facts about toilet paper?

  • The average American uses 50 pounds of toilet paper a year — that’s 57 squares daily and 8.6 per trip.
  • About 2/3 of Americans prefer the toilet paper to roll over the top of the roll.
  • The U.S. Army used toilet paper to camouflage tanks during Desert Storm.
  • The Chinese were the first to use paper sheets for bathroom uses dating back to 6th century AD.
  • Joseph Gayetty introduced toilet paper in the U.S. in 1857. Each square had Gayetty’s name and was advertised as medicated paper with aloe.
  • Common ways to wipe your bum before TP: magazine or catalog paper, hay, corncobs, leaves, moss, wool, sponges and fruit peels.
  • The Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue was located in Madison, Wis., but closed in 2000. At its peak, it contained 3,000 rolls of toilet paper.
  • Global toilet paper consumption uses 30,000 trees each day — 10 million every year.

Now that you’ve had some fun, is it time for you to schedule your colonoscopy? If you’re 50 or older and haven’t had one, it’s time. Find a location near you.


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