A year and a half before Melinda Strief of Sac City was diagnosed with Chondrosarcomca Cancer, she was struggling with back pain. She was a 48 year-old female, enjoying adult volleyball, along with being a Gifted and Talented Middle School teacher. She was active, adventurous, happy, a wife, a mom, a twin, a daughter, a sister, and a friend to many people.
“I was living life to its fullest, believing nothing was going to slow me down. I often said to other, you can’t buy good health, but this back pain keeps reoccurring,” that is where Melinda’s journey to Chondrosarcomca Cancer begins.
In 2012, at the age of 48, she began to believe it was age-related, that using muscles playing volleyball was causing inflammation and back pain. Tests on her back area found no answers for her pain. Her frustration mounted as she felt something was not right. She tried to continue her everyday activities, but it was getting harder.
Minde chaperoned students to the roller skating rink one afternoon. Pain overtook her body and limited her movement at the rink. As everyone boarded the bus, she was the last person left in the building, struggling to get to the door. She was in tears with pain and embarrassment. The bus driver helped her to the bus and once back at school, she immediately headed to Loring Hospital’s ER, knowing something was terribly wrong.
It was a late night in the ER and a sleepless night. An appointment was made with Dr. Meyer, orthopedics, at the Katie Youberg Outpatient Center at Loring Hospital. Dr. Meyer immediately knew her back was not causing her the pain and ordered x-rays for her left hip area. As she waited for results she realized how confused and scared she was feeling. Dr. Meyer said the words she still hasn’t forgotten, that a large mass was found in her left pelvis bone on the x-ray. She remembers thinking there wasn’t a bump, bulge, or anything on her skin showing something abnormal, how could this be? Minde, and her husband Bob, followed Dr. Meyer down the hallway, with tears streaming down their faces, in shock and looked at the cloudy mass Dr. Meyer outlined on the x-ray.
The situation was urgent and they talked about options for care - a decision that would determine and define the rest of her life. They chose The University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City. Being HUGE Hawkeye fans brought her some comfort, along with her children living in the area for support. Dr. Meyer and his staff assisted in recommending a doctor and getting her an appointment with Dr. Benjamin Miller for the next day.
The first introduction to the word Chondrosarcoma, a word Minde had never heard and couldn’t pronounce or spell, was by Dr. Miller. She was diagnosed as 1 in 1400 in the United States to have Chondrosarcoma Cancer. And news kept getting worse, as it was Stage 3. The mass had deteriorated much of the left pelvis bone. She was put on crutches to get weight off her hip to prevent further damage. She agreed to be part of a clinical trial, hoping her journey would help prevent someone else from going through what she would.
Minde continued her job at school the best she could until surgery in four weeks. Her life changed dramatically from normal to crutches, adjusting to everything from sitting, showering, using the bathroom, standing, and getting in and out of vehicles. She kept positive though. She wrapped black and yellow duct tape to her crutches, showing her Hawkeye pride. She recalls people approached her easier as the striped crutches were a conversation piece.
Surgery was nine hours, and using the word scar is an understatement, according to Minde. Her Sciatic nerve was moved to remove the mass, which resulted in her left foot with foot palsy or drop foot, leaving her with no feeling in her left foot. Minde had complications and was in Iowa City for five days then transferred to Younkers Rehabilitation in Des Moines, a very painful ambulance ride she will always remember.
Rehabilitation at Younkers was scheduled to be around three weeks. She describes her stay as working hard, fighting fevers, bedpans, learning to readjust to almost every part of her life with the pelvis reconstructed and healing. Nine days later she proved she was strong and ready to head home!
Minde returned home and resumed care with Dr. Zoltan Pek at UnityPoint Clinic Sac City and Loring Hospital. Lab work at Loring Hospital was part of her monthly routine. She formed a special friendship with Becky Leonard Shull in lab as she usually drew her blood each month.
Minde’s first week at home finally allowed her much needed rest. She was not home long, when a phone call came from Dr. Miller’s office and they were immediately on their way back to Iowa City. They found two new cancer spots. Doctors were concerned the spots could reach her lungs. If that happened there was little that could be done. Minde started chemotherapy treatments immediately, once a month for the next three months - June, July, and August. She remembers thinking her summer was going to be trips to Iowa City, and hospital stays from Thursday to Sunday – every other day receiving chemo, the other two days fluids. A port was placed in Minde’s right chest. Over the next year, she was thankful to have her port cleaned and checked each month at Loring Hospital instead of traveling to Iowa City.
Chemotherapy in Iowa City was extremely difficult on Minde’s body. She became bloated, uncomfortable, and remembers her body feeling heavy. The second month of chemo she became extremely nauseated, often sending her to Loring Hospital for fluids. Her hair fell out in July. The third month she tolerated horrible chills and fevers, checking her temperature every couple hours. She had instructions if her temperature went over 101.7, she was to go to the Loring Hospital ER for chest x-rays, and urine and blood samples. She was again thankful for the care received locally at Loring between chemo treatments.
After each chemo in Iowa City an injection followed the next day at Loring Hospital’s Outpatient Center to boost her immune system. Infection is a side-affect and is typical when having a piece of hardware near a bone. A PICC line was placed in Minde’s right arm for antibiotics to prevent infection. Her PICC line was cleaned and dressing changed once a week at the Loring Outpatient Center. She recalls Paula Wallerstedt, Crystal Hartsell, Sally Mason, Tina Zimmerman, and Leslie Willson pampering her every visit. “They became family over my journey, and treated me as if I were family,” she stated.
At about a year, Minde was able to start physical therapy at Loring Hospital. “I spent several years a couple times a week at Loring Hospital’s physical therapy department with Luisa Ching to build stability, balance, and strength,” she said. “They were instrumental in getting me to walk not using crutches, but now a cane. These gals made me laugh, and have been great support through this journey,” she said.
Through Minde’s courageous battle was Lori Mentzer at Loring’s registration. “Every month I saw Lori, for more than 3 ½ years. She made my visits and insurance work comfortable and easy,” recalls Minde.
Minde recently celebrated being four years cancer free. From this journey she learned to celebrate life daily with family and friends, and to be more patient and empathetic towards people. She has learned to give back, participating for the second year in the Courage Ride in Kalona benefitting Sarcoma Research.
Minde is thankful for the local healthcare system and support which includes Loring Hospital and UnityPoint Clinic, doctors and staff from both organizations. “I can never repay or thank them enough for the excellent care given to me and my husband, right here locally,” Minde said. “Loring Hospital is an asset to Sac County for its location, and the services that are available here,” she concluded.