Blue Earth’s Oelke family battles a rare appendix cancer
Usually, when an appendix gives someone an issue, it can be easily removed and the world keeps spinning. However, for one Blue Earth family, one appendix has made their world come to a crashing halt.
Nicole and Bart Oelke recently found out, after their son Marcus was born, that Nicole has appendix cancer.
Just six months ago, during Nicole’s C-section to deliver Marcus into the world, her OB/GYN noticed something odd during the procedure and decided to take a biopsy of Nicole’s tissue.
Not only was Nicole at risk, baby Marcus was, too, who had to deal with jaundice just one week into his life on earth.
The doctors found colorectal cells in Nicole’s biopsy, which was concerning, and since Nicole had just had a C-section, surgery was not their first choice to combat the cancerous cells they found.
A CT scan was done on Nicole and cancerous cells were also found in Nicole’s appendix. She was taken to the Mayo Hospital in Rochester to run further tests as well as putting a chemotherapy port in.
During the visit to Rochester, the Oelkes found out that the cancer was not just in Nicole’s appendix, but spread throughout her abdominal cavity.
Until Nicole healed from her C-section, chemotherapy was the Oelke’s only option to try and neutralize Nicole’s cancer.
As baby Marcus turned one week old and her daughter, Zoa, three, continued to be as spritely as ever, Nicole began a grueling process of chemotherapy treatments.
After her sixth round of chemotherapy, another CT?scan was done and the Oelkes found the cancer was not responding to the chemo treatment.
Determined to get well for the sake of her family, Nicole began to research across the Internet to find people who had also experienced appendix cancer and what were the best means of treatment.
Appendix cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, affects one in 1,000 people in the United States each year. Abnormal cells begin to grow in the appendix and form tumors that can spread throughout the colon and abdominal cavity. Nicole’s tumors are cancerous.
Nicole found, through her own research, a cancer center in Texas that not only had high marks for treating cancer in general, but especially the rare appendix cancer.
It was then that the Oelkes took a trip down to Texas to meet a specialist to find other means of treating Nicole’s dangerous cancer.
After more CT scans, blood tests, and a plethora of questions to be answered, Nicole’s specialist wondered why she hadn’t had surgery yet.
“After I explained that I’d just had a baby, it made more sense to him,” says Nicole.
And then, a plan began to form for Nicole and her team of specialists.
The plan, now, is for Nicole to have cytoreticulum surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC. Nicole explained that during the innovative procedure, the team of specialists will remove the peritoneum tumors. The goal of this surgery is to remove the cancerous part of the lining of the abdominal cavity. And while Nicole’s abdominal cavity is open, they will give her whole abdomen a 90-minute chemo bath.
This surgery is very extensive, according to the Oelkes.
“They call it the ‘mother of all surgeries’,” says Bart of his wife’s surgery. “It’s intimidating, but we know it will be what is best for Nicole.”
The Oelkes leave July 7 for yet another scan to make sure Nicole is as prepared for this surgery as possible.
Once they get the all-clear to do the extensive surgery, Nicole will be in Texas for six to eight weeks to recouperate from the surgery, and once she is back home, physical therapy will be a part of her everyday life to continue working on getting her abdomen muscles back and working properly.
“I’ve had two C-sections, so I’ve had a little practice with recovering from abdominal surgery,” Nicole laughs.
The Oelke’s hope is once the surgery is complete, Nicole will be 100 percent cancer free. And checking for cancer will become a part of Nicole’s regular yearly routine.
“There is still so much ahead, but we are so thankful to have such an incredible support team around us,” says Nicole.
Nicole recently lost her father to cancer, and her mother has also recently passed away. Nicole says it is difficult not having her parents around, but that does not mean she does not have family close to her.
“I am so thankful to have my husband and his parents helping us through all of this, and I have incredible friends, Tara and Danielle, who are helping us with this benefit,” says Nicole. “And my amazing Aunt Sharon who is battling ovarian cancer, too. She is amazing and has gone through it, too, and just knowing I’m not alone in this makes a world of difference.”
“That’s the best thing about small towns that not everybody understands,” says Bart. “When people in a small town like Blue Earth see a family struggle, everyone pitches in whatever way they can to help. When hard times fall on the families around here, that’s when this town shines.”
The Oelkes have a routine that they stick to for now which allows Nicole time to continue to get chemo therapy every two weeks, and still has time to rest thanks in part to their entire network of friends and family.
But still, being a mother while going through chemotherapy and having two young children is definitely not easy, says Nicole.
“You just have to push through it. People talk about .” that motherly instinct and naturally, I’m a warrior, so I do what I have to do for my kids,” she says with a smile. “If they wake up feeling good, I don’t have a choice if I feel good or not, they’re ready to go.”
If all goes well, by this time next year, Nicole will be almost pretty much back to normal.
But there is still a long and rigorous road ahead for the Oelke family.
“This whole thing has blown my mind,” Nicole says. “But if I hadn’t researched my own treatment for this, I would probably still just be getting chemotherapy in hopes that it would combat the cancer. You can’t always depend on others. If I hadn’t done my own research, I would never have found the help that I did with this.”
“It’s one thing after another for us,” says Bart. “But we just keep pushing through. We are thankful for every minute we have together.”