During the recent Whale of a Run race in Silverdale, which benefitted Meals on Wheels, one runner stood out from the others. Lexi Sittser, 16, had the word “Survivor” and the name “Cheryl Steele” written in blue letters on her jersey.
An avid runner, Sittser had run her best race that day. She wasn’t just running for Kitsap Physical Therapy & Sports Clinics, one of the Whale of a Run sponsors. She was running for a family friend. “Cheryl Steele survived cancer,” she explains. “Thinking of her strength gave me strength to finish the run and enjoy it, because it was for her.”
A fourth-generation Kingston resident, Steele was diagnosed with colon cancer in March. She’d been sick for seven months after getting food poisoning from a recalled product. Three physicians had given her three different diagnoses, until Jillian Rutherford, a board-certified physician assistant with the Kingston office of Vintage Direct Primary Care, questioned the lack of any tests, despite the recurring symptoms.
“She was like a medical detective,” Steele says. “She’ll do research after research until there’s no stone left unturned.”
After tests confirmed cancer, Steele spent six weeks, five days a week, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Once the tumor was shrunk, surgery followed in July, removing 12 inches of her colon and 24 lymph nodes.
“My doctor at Cancer Care Alliance was thrilled at the shrinkage of the tumor, but three lymph nodes were cancerous,” Steele says.
That means that for the next four months she will need biweekly sessions of liquid chemotherapy. Two of Steele’s challenges will be to keep toxins at bay and maintain her physical strength.
To help her through this next stage, friend Ceci Sittser — Lexi’s mother — recommended the Strength After Cancer Program at Kitsap Physical Therapy (KPT). Working with physical therapist Kara Bermensolo, Steele will learn special exercises as well as other techniques for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Bermensolo is one of several KPT certified lymphedema therapists (CLT), who are trained in evidence-based protocols for cancer survivors. CLTs are located at the Bainbridge, Bremerton, Kingston, Poulsbo-Village and Silverdale KPT clinics.
“It’s good to know there’s a certified lymphedema therapist on this side of the water who can really educate you on how to prevent toxins from affecting your body,” says Steele.
Steele says she feels blessed to have a network of excellent providers, both at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and close to home. She says it’s important for her to know that her faith is stronger than her fear. And she’s grateful to Lexi Sittser not only for running in her name but also for spreading awareness of colon cancer at the event.
“It was quite an honor that she asked me if she could run in my name,” she says. “It touched my heart.”
Local Cancer Programs
Strength After Cancer - A KPT wellness and education program, focused on fitness and overall well-being, for cancer survivors to help reduce the likelihood of lymphedema, create a post-cancer exercise routine and help maintain a healthy lifestyle. The program is available at the Bainbridge, Bremerton, Kingston, PoulsboVillage and Silverdale locations. Learn more at: www.kitsappt.com/strength-aftercancer or contact one of the KPT offices.
Survive and Thrive — Founded by Peninsula Breast Center co-founders Dr. Berit Madsen and Dr. Sheila Lally, this donor-funded wellness program supports women who have completed any form of cancer treatment. The program is focused on fitness and nutrition, with the goal of empowering women to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle after cancer. Learn more at: www.peninsulabreastcenter.com/survive-and-thrive-program or call (360) 697–8024.
Kathleen Sutton Fund — Created in honor of Kathleen Sutton, who lost her battle with breast cancer, this nonprofit assists women with transportation costs for cancer treatments, paying for everything from gas and tolls to parking and ferry tickets. The annual auction (Sept. 30 at Port Gamble Pavilion) is the main source of funds. Learn more at kathleensutton.org or call Vivi-Ann Parnell at (360) 620-3259.
Article Submitted by: Ceci Sittser
Kitsap Physical Therapy, Physician Liaison