Conquering cancer

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By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist


In October of last year, at the age of 44, Stephanie Sellin saw and felt a lump in her breast. She went to Tri-County Health Care straight away for a mammogram. The findings prompted further testing.

In November, David Kloss, M.D., FACS, performed a minimally invasive breast biopsy. A couple days later, the hospital called and told Stephanie the news. It was positive for cancer.

“I kind of had a feeling,” Stephanie said. “There’s no history in my family, so it was kind of a shock. There were no symptoms. I didn’t feel sick.”Cancer patient, Stephanie, with her husband.

Stephanie’s husband, DJ, stepped confidently into the role of her support system, keeping her spirits up, providing refreshing laughter and giving her a familiar hand to hold. Stephanie noted that their three children, Madisyn, Rachel and Alex, were scared at first but that they handled the situation well.

As Stephanie faced her diagnosis, she tried to cope with the reality that she may have passed the breast cancer gene on to her girls.

“Right away, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve cursed them,’” Stephanie said. “That was probably one of the hardest parts. I didn’t really think about me. It was more, what about my girls?”

Stephanie went in for genetic testing with her oncologist at TCHC, Wade Swenson, M.D., and much to her relief, she found that it wasn’t hereditary.

Cancer patient, Stephanie Sellin,, receiving chemo treatment.With that question cleared, Stephanie underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and then had one more test to determine if she needed chemotherapy. The results indicated her recurrence rate might be higher, so under Dr. Swenson’s care, Stephanie began chemotherapy. She needed four treatments, each spaced three weeks apart.

Displaying an unwavering positive attitude, Stephanie faced the treatment head-on, reveling in the family-like atmosphere at TCHC and the compassionate nurses who gave her heartfelt care.

“Everybody’s awesome, fun, and makes jokes, and it’s not serious,” she said. “We’re laughing and joking and having fun. It feels like everybody’s family. I love it.”

During chemo, however, one of Stephanie’s struggles was saying goodbye to her long hair.

“That was one of the hard parts,” she said. “My hair was down to my butt, and it was really curly. I cried once and then said, ‘Let’s just cut it.’”

Stephanie eased into the transition with a few haircuts. To start, she styled her hair into three braids and let each of her kids cut one off to keep. Then she went to a hairdresser to get it cut further. Once she started chemo, she decided to buzz it all off at home. Her husband also shaved his head.Cancer patient, Stephanie, holds hands with husband, DJ.

“We couldn’t talk any of the kids into it,” she said with a laugh.

Patients of TCHC cancer care receive free wig fittings and wigs in Fergus Falls. Stephanie selected a wig and purchased an assortment of cute hats, but she soon grew accustomed to going without.

Stephanie completed chemotherapy on March 20, the day before her wedding anniversary, so she and DJ celebrated with a special day out.

Following chemo, she began radiation treatment with Dr. Swenson in Fergus Falls every day for four weeks. She completed radiation on May 22.

The experience opened Stephanie’s eyes to the importance of family, finding laughter in the face of adversity, and being proactive with health screenings.

“(Women should) make sure they get their mammograms and find cancer early,” Stephanie urged. “It is very important. It is treatable.”


For more information about TCHC’s cancer care program, call 218-631-7461 or visit

Little Warriors…Big Fight

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By: Jil Fiemeyer

I still see them in my dreams at night. The countless bald-headed children smiling and laughing as they ride down the oncology hallway of Children’s Hospital in their wheelchair. The little girl wearing her pajamas, wig and sunglasses as she takes her remote control rat for a walk and giggling when she scared a nurse. The countless kids who walked confidently down the hallway to look at the Minneapolis skyline from the big window on the 7th floor, even if it meant they had to pull the IV pole that was attached to a port in their chest.

Jane getting out of her room and scaring the nurses (who were such great sports!) with her new remote-controlled Rat she named “Ross”.

Jane getting out of her room and scaring the nurses (who were such great sports!) with her new remote-controlled Rat she named “Ross”.

These are kids who day in and day out embraced their journey to fight the cancer bully with the courage and tenacity that would put professional football players to shame.

These same kids are the ones getting injected with poison in hopes that the chemo saves their life. They lose their hair, their innocence and some even lose their lives. These little warriors, these ankle biters, these teenagers… they all have one thing in common. They are fighting a big fight – the fight against PEDIATRIC CANCER – and I’m happy to say it’s a fight that most of them win.

And while the statistics have improved, sometimes even a 90% success rate is not enough. I’m a mom whose daughter was unfortunately in the 10 percent. My daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of seven – when she was a second-grader at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School. What appeared to at first be symptoms of an ear infection or maybe even Lyme Disease, within weeks was confirmed as that dreaded “C” word, CANCER. On September 6, 2012, Jane earned her ANGEL’s wings just 13 months after her diagnosis, just weeks before her ninth birthday.

Jane shortly after her diagnosis, before she lost her hair.

Jane shortly after her diagnosis, before she lost her hair.

What I learned in the last three years and probably the biggest surprise to me is that Jane’s medical journey is not that rare. Each year, the parents of approximately 16,000 American kids will hear the words “your child has cancer.” Globally there are more than 250,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year. Jane had Leukemia, possibly one of the most familiar types of cancer, but there are other types of cancers that affect children every year. Generally speaking, there are three categories of children’s cancer:

  • Leukemia: is a cancer of the blood. Leukemia cells are sick immune blood cells that do not work properly and crowd out healthy blood cells. Leukemia’s are the most common childhood cancer. Types of Leukemia include Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
  • Lymphoma – Cancer of the immune system: The sick cells do not work properly to protect the body and they crowd out healthy cells of the immune system. Types of Lymphomas include Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
  • Solid Tumors (Sarcomas) – Cancer of the Bone, Organs or Tissues: A solid tumor is a lump of sick cells stuck together. Tumors can develop in many parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, liver and bones. These sick cells crowd out healthy cells and keep them from doing their job. Types of solid tumor cancers include Neuroblastoma, Ewing Sarcoma and Wilms Tumors.

Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, pediatric cancer remains the number one cause of death by disease in children in America. Despite major advances – from an overall survival rate of 10 percent just fifty years ago to nearly 90 percent today – for many rare cancers, the survival rate is much lower. Furthermore, the number of diagnosed cases annually has not declined in nearly 20 years.

Jane waiting patiently for her transport nurse to escort her radiology for yet another scan.

Jane waiting patiently for her transport nurse to escort her radiology for yet another scan.

Some facts about childhood cancer…

  • Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer.
  • More than 40,000 children are in cancer treatment each year.
  • The average age of children diagnosed is six.
  • One out of eight children with cancer, like Jane, will not survive.
  • 60% of children who survive cancer suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.
  • There are approximately 375,000 adult survivors of children’s cancer in the United States.
  • In the last 20 years only three cancer medications have been specifically developed for children.

While doctors and researchers have made strides in the battle against so many other types of cancer, the lack of funding and awareness for our children has led to an insignificant improvement in survival rates for pediatric cancer over the past decade. According to St. Baldrick’s Organization, more children are lost to cancer in the United States than any other disease – in fact, more than many other childhood diseases combined.

So how does childhood cancer become a priority cause in this country? The journey begins with each of us. We need your help to raise more funds and more awareness.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month symbolized by the color gold. It is a month to go GOLD and show your support for kids battling cancer around the world and for those who lost their battle.

Here is how you can help (Pick just one, or try them all):

  • Paint your fingernails gold or wear a gold ribbon in your hair.
  • Wear a gold ribbon pinned to your shirt and tell people why.
  • Change your social media profile photo for the entire month of September to a gold ribbon badge. Customize your own profile photo with a gold ribbon by clicking here. It’s quick, easy and free.
  • Use the hashtag #gogold when you post to social media about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
  • Watch The Truth 365 documentary about childhood cancer. 
  • Hang gold lights in your home or business throughout the month September in honor of Childhood Cancer Month.
  • Paint a gold ribbon on your car window along with “Childhood Cancer Awareness Month”.
  • Watch Our Kids Are Worth “More Than 4”
  • Take the Whipping Childhood Cancer Challenge and challenge your friends.
  • Send a donation to CureSearch to help fund more research for childhood cancer treatments.
  • Donate blood products and get on the national bone marrow registry.
Jane and her sisters liked to play games when they came to visit her in the hospital.

Jane and her sisters liked to play games when they came to visit her in the hospital.

Support local organizations

  • Participate in the local Princess Warrior 5K Run, Walk, Roll, Stroll or Crawl. This 5K was created in honor of my daughter, Jane Fiemeyer, who died from cancer just weeks before her ninth birthday. It was her request before she died that she wanted to have a race – a race that would hopefully in one way or another help her dream for finding a cure for cancer become reality.
  • Join the “Kayleen Larson Toy Drive” and drop toys off at Coborn’s in Sartell, Minnesota. These toys are given to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis in honor of Kayleen who be forever 9 years old. Please join us in honoring her last wish.
  • Support “A Measure of Healing Hearts for Childhood Cancer” a non-profit organization that was created in honor of twins Gage and Jace, from Deer Creek, Minnesota, who battled the Neuroblastoma Cancer bully as infants and won!

My hope is that each of you will #GoGold during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Together, we can make significant progress toward ending children’s cancer.

Because children are more precious than gold.

About the writer: Jil Fiemeyer is a Wadena native and a Communications Specialist on the marketing team at Tri-County Health Care. She is the mother of three beautiful girls and enjoys each and every day of being their mom. Since her daughter’s Leukemia diagnosis and her death, Jil has learned first-hand the effects of grief and how it manifests around the ones you love. As her way to heal, Jil enjoys writing and has recently started talking to groups about grief, grief recovery and living your best life despite all the struggles that life has to offer.


*Tri-County Health Care hosts a “Parents Who Have Lost a Child” support group to help those in the area affected by the loss of a child. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care. Click here to learn more…

My cancer diagnosis story…

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By: Deb Miller

Deb and her family.

Deb and her family.

This April, I had a suspicious mammogram at TCHC that was followed immediately by an ultrasound. Two days later I had a biopsy done at TCHC and three days later I got the results of the biopsy that showed I had triple negative breast cancer. I am so thankful for the knowledgeable staff at TCHC and how quickly they took care of me. Because this is a more aggressive type of breast cancer, the providers I work with at the Henning Clinic and my family strongly encouraged me to get a second opinion at a breast cancer center. I spent the week of April 27th in the Twin Cities with appointments at Virginia Piper Breast Center and Minnesota Oncology and started chemo the first week of May. By the time I am done, I will have a total of 16 chemo treatments, followed by surgery and possibly radiation.

“God’s Got This” is something I have always believed, and a promise that our family has clung to in the last 3-½ years. In October of 2011, our daughter-in-law Leanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 26 years old and pregnant with their first child. She was a young woman with an amazing faith in God and she lived her 2-½ year cancer journey totally trusting that “God’s Got This.” God continually showed our families in countless ways that he would provide what we needed for each day of that journey. Leanne was always ready to share her faith and the promise that “God’s Got This” with those she met. The last time that Leanne was at our home was Easter, April 20, 2014. I was diagnosed this year on April 20th, which was exactly 11 months after she went to heaven on May 20th, 2014. While it seemed almost impossible that we could be going through this again so soon, I also knew that I had no better example of how to live my cancer journey than Leanne and there was no doubt, “God’s Got This”!

Deb with her co-workers wearing the t-shirts they had made for a fundraiser to help her offset her medical expenses.

Deb with her co-workers wearing the t-shirts they had made for a fundraiser to help her offset her medical expenses.

I have worked for Tri-County Health Care since 1994 at the Henning Clinic in Lab and X-ray. After my diagnosis, I found out that Amy Severson and my co-workers at the Henning Clinic had arranged a fundraiser. I showed up at work one day and they were wearing these “God’s Got This” t-shirts they had made. I can’t even put into words how special that was to me. I work with the best people and their support means the world to me. They have been with me through all the ups and downs of the last 3 ½ years and they are like my second family.

Words of wisdom to give to newly diagnosed? You will be inundated with information at a very emotional time. Take someone with you to your appointments so you have a second set of ears to listen to everything. Ask them to take notes. It’s ok to get a second opinion, you want to be as informed as possible and then choose the provider you feel the most comfortable with. For me, once my treatment plan was in place, it was very overwhelming to think about how many months all this was going to take. I do my best to take one day at a time, be thankful for the blessings of that day and with my family, friends and God by my side, I will get through this.