Mitchell Colon Cancer Patient; “Trust Your Care Team”
“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.”