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Faces of Blue: Gale Fritsche

By March 7, 2016Faces of Blue

A few years ago, I was in my 40s standing at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. It was a goal I had worked long and hard to accomplish and there was no other feeling like it in the world – other than the birth of my children. Soon after, I found myself on the starting line of the New York City Marathon. Having qualified, I felt on top of the world – invincible, strong, and unstoppable – what could possibly go wrong in my life? When I turned 50, I went for my routine physical and my doctor told me that my physical condition was unbelievable for my age, but told me that I was now due for my first colonoscopy. I always listen to the doctor, so I started the process to find a gastroenterologist and have it taken care of. I wasn’t in a huge hurry since I felt fine, had no family history of cancer, never smoked and had a decent diet.

On April 1st, 2014, I was going through the prep process prior to my appointment scheduled for April 2nd. I remember complaining about having to drink that awful drink, thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this? I feel fine.” The day of my appointment, I went through the pre-procedure routine, and was wheeled into the procedure room – the next thing I remember is waking up with two doctors standing over me saying I had a problem, they found a tumor and I needed surgery. From that point forward my life turned upside down – I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer and the longest marathon of my life just began.

Gale Surgery 2-2It is hard to describe the emotional roller coaster over the next several months. It was initially very difficult to stay positive, because there were so many unknowns. Depression and anxiety set in and I was wondering whether or not I would get a chance to see my children finish college, be able to see my grandchildren, be able to enjoy the special days with my wife, family and friends. After surgery, I made a trip to the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, since a good friend of mine is an oncologist there. He called and encouraged me come up for a second opinion just to make sure I am doing the right thing. I chose to be treated at the Lehigh Valley Hospital because the treatment recommendation was the same and the Lehigh Valley Hospital was only 2 miles from where I live. I met with a fantastic oncologist, Dr. Usman Shah, who spent a lot of time with me, was optimistic, conservative and showed that he genuinely cared. I knew I was in good hands.

600_439629938I was off work for six months because the chemo was making me nauseous, it was difficult to focus, and I was a physical and emotional mess. Having being active my entire life, I soon became bored and needed something to keep my mind off things. It was the middle of the summer, so I brushed the dust off my bike and started riding – it was tough since my appetite wasn’t the best, my hands and feet were numb, but it was something I always enjoyed and it was a way for me to collect my thoughts and meditate. At the end of each chemo cycle, I started joining a local group bicycle ride and in one day, we rode over 60 miles, which was tough since my 190-pound frame had recently shrunk to 170 pounds.

I began to get my thoughts together and convinced myself I was going to be fine – just a bump in the road of life. I started researching more about colon cancer and some of the things I found were staggering – it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for a cancer that is largely preventable. I also found that a significant percentage of people do not get screened. Why are so many people dying of the disease? Because people are unaware and don’t go through the screening process. I soon found the Colon Cancer Coalition website and was instantly attracted and encouraged by their mission and some of the things they were doing to raise awareness. I soon decided I had to do something to help raise awareness and save lives. It blind-sided me and I began to wonder how many people are walking around unaware that colon cancer is silently taking their lives. I called Anne and Stacy at the Colon Cancer Coalition and pitched the idea of supporting a bicycle ride instead of the traditional running events the Colon Cancer Coalition supports. They were excited about the idea and the Tour de Tush™ bicycle ride for Colon Cancer Awareness was born. The inaugural event on June 13, 2015 was a huge success! The Tour de Tush name was trademarked and the Colon Cancer Coalition is planning to introduce the event in other cities throughout the country. My only hope is that the event will save lives through touching people and encouraging screening.

highres_438777609My advice to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis:

Talk about it – do not be afraid to talk about your feelings, seek counseling and use your family and friends – they will be there for you

Get up and be active, it may be difficult and painful but does wonders for your mental state. Walk around the block, enjoy the sunshine, ride a bike or go for a hike.

A special thanks go to my family who stuck with me through the ups and downs, transported me to treatments and dealing with my ongoing mood changes. My wife, son, daughter, brother and mother-in law were there for me and I will be eternally grateful. The next Tour de Tush – Allentown is scheduled for June 11, 2016 and as long as I am able, I will be doing everything I can to contribute to the fight against colon cancer. Hope to see you there.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Stacey Wilson says:

    Great story, Gale…and oh so familiar, though I was 35. I hope Tour de Tush comes to Indianapolis…we will keep an eye out for it!

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