Though life moves at a slower pace these days and he’s had to surrender some beloved activities, Dennis Seifert celebrates life every day.
In May 2008, the then-49-year-old Coon Rapids man was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs. He said he was told he wouldn’t see his 50th birthday.
Seifert wasn’t going to take that lying down.
“It doesn’t matter which way the wind blows – you can’t change that. But you can always adjust your sails,” he said last week, reminiscing about his determination to pursue treatment, make some adjustments and beat cancer no matter what it took.
Under the care of Dr. Noel Laudi at Minnesota Oncology’s Coon Rapids clinic, Seifert underwent an aggressive regimen that included 14 surgeries, several rounds of intense chemotherapy and participation in a clinical trial.
He was finally declared cancer-free in December 2011.
Last year, Seifert marked a “huge milestone” in his recovery, walking 1 mile in Minnesota Oncology’s inaugural Hope in Motion event. That event celebrates National Cancer Survivors Day. Weak and fatigued as he still was due to the years of treatments and surgeries he had endured, Seifert wanted to prove to himself and to others that “life goes on.”
“I knew I was going to have a new life to live. Not sure what that new life was but new life was what I had. I just wanted to be an encouragement to others going through cancer treatment that you can get through it. You can survive,” Seifert said.
This year Seifert will again participate in the Hope in Motion event, taking place 7-10:30 a.m. June 7 at Normandale Lake Park, 5901 West 84th St., Bloomington.
The second-annual event includes a 5K run and walk, a 1-mile family walk, a kids run, wellness activities, entertainment, speakers and more.
Seifert said he plans to walk in the event, but first, as one of the scheduled speakers he will share his survivor story with the crowd before warm ups begin and walkers and runners line up at the start line.
Seifert also helps to provide hope and encouragement to cancer patients undergoing treatments at Minnesota Oncology’s Coon Rapids clinic.
“I volunteer at the resource center desk, make appointments, make coffee, just talk with patients and their families. I also work in the wig room. I just do what I can to help make it easier for people,” he said. “It wears me down, but it’s a good kind of wear down because I know I’m helping.”
As it celebrates cancer survivors, Hope in Motion also serves as a fundraising event benefitting the Angel Foundation. That foundation is a non-profit organization that helps cancer patients with non-medical expenses like rent or mortgage payments, phone bills, gas, electric, or water bills, groceries and gasoline expenses.
“No one really knows what it’s like to have cancer until you get cancer. You don’t really know what you lose until you go through it. The Angel Foundation is a great help, and I also had a great support system – our neighbors Ron and Karen Bakke and friends Jim and Robin McDaniel did so much. They were a major part of my support group,” Seifert said, looking back at the challenges he faced during and after his cancer treatment.
In addition to the difficulties of overcoming the pain, fatigue, nausea and other debilitating effects of the surgeries and treatments, Seifert suffered what he calls the “collateral damage” of his cancer treatment.
He was unable to drive for six years due to side effects from the medications. He couldn’t do the ceramic tile work he had been doing as an independent contractor for 25 years. He couldn’t do any yard work in the summer or clear snow from the driveway in the winter. Due to the neuropathy in his fingers, Seifert couldn’t even play his guitar until recently.
“Doesn’t sound the same, but it’s music. I’m playing, so that’s another milestone, another part of this new life,” Seifert said.
Add to all that, the fact that Seifert and his wife, Annette, also were managing her health crises, challenges they’ve faced together all the years the Coon Rapids High School sweethearts have been together.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was in junior high, Annette has endured the residual effects of that disease over the years as well as newly-identified health challenges in recent years.
“Between hers and mine, it’s hard to keep track of who was in the hospital when,” Seifert said, smiling at his wife, his partner in the battles of their lives.
The next step in those battles will be taken when Seifert walks in the Hope in Motion event. For more information about that event, to learn how to participate or to make a donation, visit MNOncology.com/HopeInMotion.
To learn more about the Angel Foundation, visit MNAngel.org.