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Diekmann tells story of will to survive, gratitude

Renee Diekmann

May 29, 2018
Estherville News

Told by Renee Diekmann

Editor's note: Renee Diekmann is an honorary cancer survivor for this year's Emmet County Relay for Life

The beginning

Article Photos

Renee Diekman is second from right in this family photo.

My cancer knowledge started when I was in high school and my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was in Rochester, Minn., at Mayo Clinic when chemotherapy was still in the test stage. I remember him being so sick after the treatments. He lost his hair, his sense of taste changed, and he tired easily. It gave him five years, which was enough time to see the birth of all his grandchildren.

This was the background I was coming from when 20 years ago, I found a lump in my breast. I will tell you to do as I say, not as I did. I put off going to the doctor for most of a year, but finally in October, 1998, I made an appointment and went in.

The first thing was a mammogram and ultrasound. After that it was decided I needed a biopsy. This required an appointment in Sioux Falls as there were no local treatment options.

Fact Box

"I will tell you to do as I say, not as I did. I put off going to the doctor for most of a year, but finally in October, 1998, I made an appointment and went in."

-Renee Diekmann

I went and had the biopsy done, and the doctor told me he was confident that it was just a fatty deposit, but he would send it for testing. I left thinking I was safe and that this wasn't a big deal.

The diagnosis

What a shock it was when I got the call that I needed to come in right away. Of course my mind immediately goes to the worse possible outcome, so I was pretty upset by the time I got in to see Dr. Stangl. After talking it over, it was decided that a lumpectomy was the first step, so off to Sioux Falls again. A quick trip to Sioux Falls turned into being stranded in Hills, Minnesota, and rescheduled surgery due to a November blizzard.

Surgery finally happened two days later. The lump was removed and lymph nodes were taken. The results came back that the cancer had not spread to the surrounding tissue or the lymph nodes. This was good news.

Just the beginning

The next step was seeing an oncologist, which meant another trip to Sioux Falls. I saw Dr. Halverson at the Central Plains Clinic, and he went through all the options. I told him that I would do whatever would give me the opportunity to see my nephew and nieces grow up. They were 6, 4 and 2 at the time and had just moved back from Texas.

Dr. Halverson said he could not give me 100 percent guarantee, but with chemo and radiation, he could give 98.9 percent. If that was the best he could do, I would take it. He also asked if I would be interested in being part of a research study. I was not sure, but after thinking about everything that my grandfather went through to help advance cancer therapy for future generations, how could I not do the same. Everyone in the study got the standard chemo, but some also got a second drug that was originally used only if the first treatment did not work. The study was to see if taking the second drug with the first drug would prevent or decrease the chance of the cancer coming back.

The nuclear option

This led to my first experience with nuclear medicine. That was kind of scary. Because of the study, the condition of my heart was monitored before and after the chemo. I was injected with a radioactive dye so they could see how well my heart was working, and they were pleased that I had no visible damage from the chemo.

I started chemo right after Christmas. The first treatment did not seem to be that bad, I thought, that was until about 9 a.m. when I got sick and my blood counts dropped. I was put on steroids for the rest of my chemo, which made a big difference with the sick feeling. I finished chemo in March, only had to postpone one treatment due to low blood counts.


Radiation was the next step, and luckily the Abben Cancer Center was open in Spencer and Dr. Nordstrom had worked with the doctors in Sioux Falls so I could do the radiation locally. It was six weeks of five-day-a-week radiation, but by June I was done.

Being well

I had a follow-up appointment in Sioux Falls for ten years because of the study. It was every three months for two years, then every six months for three years, then once per year for five years. It gave me a sense of security that I was being checked. The year that they said I did not have to come back anymore was quite stressful as I felt like I was out with no backup, which was wrong. I still had my regular physical and mammogram, but that extra look was something I was used to.

Celebrating life

It has been 20 years with no recurrence and life is amazing. I have enjoyed everything that I was looking forward to with my nephew and nieces. Sometimes the worst gets you to the best.

I would encourage everyone to come down to Library Square and enjoy the celebration of Emmet County's Relay for Life events on Friday, June 1 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thank you for the opportunity to be an Honorary Survivor.



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