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Two Young Girls Help Their Father Rebuild Strength After Cancer Treatment

June 26, 2014



Kaiser Permanente member Warren Keppler, cancer survivor

OAKLAND, Calif. — When friends asked Warren Keppler what he wanted out of fatherhood back in 2004, his answer came naturally: “I want to run with my girls.”

That time came on a bright and chilly Thanksgiving morning, when Warren and his 8-year-old daughter, Gabi, were nervously readying to run a race — Gabi’s first ever. As they waded through the crowd, Gabi, her hair tied back into a ponytail, took in their surroundings. She noticed with concern that her father, a veteran runner, was already showing signs of exhaustion.

“You can do it, Papa,” she reassured him.

Just three months earlier, Warren had finished a different, very personal race: the last round of rigorous cancer treatment. Stage 4 throat cancer had threatened to take his life.

With the diagnosis, Kaiser Permanente physician Bryan Fong, MD, had given him a choice: Doctors could either remove the cancer surgically, taking much of his tongue — which carried the high probability of him losing his ability to speak — or a longer-term treatment option, where doctors would shrink the tumor through radiation and chemotherapy.

Warren knew losing his tongue could mean sacrificing his career as a learning consultant with Kaiser Permanente in Walnut Creek. He chose the second, longer-term option in hopes of retaining his ability to speak.

The treatment wasn’t easy on his body. Constant fatigue and throat pain made it nearly impossible for Warren to eat. For the first few months, he refused a feeding tube and, as a result, lost more than 40 pounds.

In August of 2013, Warren emerged from treatment fragile, yet determined and most importantly cancer-free.

Warren’s two young daughters took it upon themselves to help him regain his strength. They picked the date to run their first race together — Thanksgiving Day — and immediately began training for the three-and-a-half mile run with their father.

They walked Warren around the house, steadied him as they jogged around a local running track, and challenged him each weekend, pushing him further and further until the day of the race.

Weeks later, looking back through photos, the emotions settled in for Warren. He was struck by the tremendous empathy of his daughters — Gabi stayed with him as he got closer to the finish line, and his youngest had stayed back to help a sick friend at the start of the race. He was also struck by the accomplishment of crossing the finish line, and, most of all, the fact that he was alive to run the race at all.

“When we began, I couldn’t even jog around our block, but every weekend we went farther,” Warren remembers. “It was amazing how far we came.”

Life after cancer treatment takes adjustment. James Hamrick, MD, is an oncologist with Kaiser Permanente in Georgia. He describes life after cancer as “the new normal” for patients, and has tips for what to expect:

Fatigue
Activities such as work or exercise that might have been routine before treatment can be quite difficult after one has had major surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Tips

  • Ease into your routine slowly
  • Walk to rebuild strength and energy
  • See a physical therapist to learn best ways to exercise

Cognitive effects or ‘chemo brain’
Some patients or family members may notice that people who have received chemotherapy have problems with memory, concentration, or organization. Typically these problems are mild and manageable and resolve soon after chemo is finished, but sometimes problems can be more severe and last long after treatment.

Tips

  • Slowly build back up, mentally and physically
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Have a routine and use a planner to get back on track
  • Avoid multi-tasking
  • Do mental exercises like reading or puzzles

Neuropathy
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause injury to nerves. This can result in numbness, burning sensations, temperature sensitivity, shooting pains, or weakness, often in fingertips or toes. Typically these symptoms improve over time, but sometimes they can be debilitating.

Tips

  • Exercise can help mediate symptoms
  • Avoid cold temperatures
  • If symptoms continue, talk to your doctor about medications

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 9.3 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.