A little more than two years ago, Wellmark member Kreg Tjelmeland of Anamosa, Iowa, went to his yearly physical. Since he was 50, he needed a simple blood test called a PSA (prostate-specific antigen). The results showed elevated levels of PSA. A biopsy later revealed he had prostate cancer.
This started a process that led to surgery a few months later, to remove the tumor. Later, he would call this experience his “little” cancer.
“The surgery was on my wife’s birthday, in September of 2016. Here is the weird thing: It was in the same operating room where she had her hysterectomy a year before,” says Tjelmeland. “It felt like we were really being welcomed into mid-life.”
The surgery was successful, and the side effects were minimal, said Tjelmeland. His post-surgery PSA scores were in check now, so no radiation or chemotherapy was necessary. Tjelmeland was cancer free. Today, he has his PSA checked every six months.
“My advice is to talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of getting the test,” said Tjelmeland.
Tjelmeland’s father had prostate cancer when he was older, which increased his own risk. “When you have a family history, it’s really a no-brainer,” he says.
“The key is to find the tumor in its infancy,” says Tjelmeland. “That’s when treatment is very manageable. There are simply more choices.”
So, why was it his “little" cancer?
Six months after his surgery for prostate cancer, Tjelmeland learned he had colorectal cancer. His doctors determined this tumor was unrelated to the prostate cancer. This was an altogether separate journey, one that required multiple rounds of chemotherapy and then chemotherapy and radiation combined. This journey led down a hard road. But today, Tjelmeland is once again cancer free.
“When it comes to cancer, you really don’t have a choice. You either have the cancer or you don’t,” he says. “Annual physicals are your chance to learn what you need to know. Don’t procrastinate or skip them altogether. Your life may depend on it.”
Cancer as a gift
How are you holding up today?
“Spiritually and emotionally, I’m doing phenomenal. Really, I couldn’t be doing better from that standpoint. I consider cancer a gift. I feel so fortunate to have survived. I was in a win-win situation because of my faith. No matter what happened, I won. However, if cancer won, my family would have to go on without me. So, it wasn’t all about me. It was a shared journey. They were incredibly supportive. Not only that, I learned that cancer can be a tremendous marriage counselor. It has brought me and Karla, my wife of 32 years, together like never before.”
For you, what was the most challenging part of your journey?
“For me, a large part of the battle was mental. My faith allowed me to embrace it with joy, loving on people who were on the journey with me. And my goodness, do health care providers and other caregivers ever need a glimmer of joy in their day! They face suffering and death at every turn. I am so thankful to know the people I met in oncology, surgery and chemotherapy. There were dark days, yes. But because of the people I met, it was in many ways joyful. I had the chance to meet with people and learn their stories. That is a gift.”
"I look at it like this: With cancer, I was taken to a place that not everyone gets to go. It’s a valley. Now I’m on the other side of the valley, looking down from the mountaintop. I made it, and now I’m able to help others as they walk their journey. Now that’s a gift."
Kreg Tjelmeland, Wellmark member
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