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Caring for Cancer, Journaling the Journey | Altru

Caring for Cancer, Journaling the Journey | Altru

It seemed like any other Sunday for Jeff and Glenna Fosse. After church, the couple visited Jeff’s parents for a cup of coffee. Jeff seemed a bit distant at the time, but that was normal.

Glenna wasn't concerned as the construction foreman for Lunseth Plumbing & Heating spent a lot of time thinking about work. Then the seizure came.

“We were all completely shocked,” Glenna says. Glenna immediately called an ambulance, and Jeff went to the emergency room. After several tests, there was a diagnosis. Jeff had lesions on his brain.

A Hard Road

Once Jeff’s lesions were identified, he was put into a medically induced coma. Soon afterward, he underwent surgery to remove as many of the tumors as possible. Then on Oct. 19, 2015, he had his first oncology appointment at Altru Cancer Center. That was also Jeff and Glenna’s 30th anniversary.

“The doctors and nurses went above and beyond to answer our questions every step of the way,” Glenna says. “They gave suggestions and laid out all our options clearly and compassionately.”

To treat his cancer, Jeff took a chemotherapy pill at home. He also received radiation therapy at Altru Cancer Center under the care of Grant Seeger, MD, a radiation oncologist. Throughout Jeff’s therapy, Dr. Seeger recommended appropriate clinical trials at Altru and innovative treatments with the potential to improve and prolong his life.

“Jeff continued to live life as he wanted,” Glenna says. “He golfed as much as possible and worked until July 2017, when he started having memory issues and signs that the cancer had spread.”

On Oct. 4, 2017—exactly two years after his first seizure, Jeff passed away at age 55.

The Road Takes a Turn

Two months after Jeff’s death, Glenna’s life flipped upside down a second time. With no history of breast cancer in her family, she had a lump in her left breast. Following a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy at Altru’s Breast Center, Glenna learned she had breast cancer on Dec. 21, 2017. Her care team went to work to develop an effective plan.

In the next few months, Glenna underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy (surgical removal of both breasts) and 25 radiation treatments. To keep up with her own health and well-being, she wrote notes and posted them all over her house.

“I tracked how many anti-nausea pills I took, what worked best for side effects, what tasted good and on and on,” she says. “Chemo fog is real. You don’t remember things like you think you will. Writing things down helped.”

Family and friends checked in on her regularly, but Glenna lived alone. So, Glenna did for herself what Jeff wouldn’t allow her to do for him. She started a CaringBridge site. The CaringBridge site gave her a simple way to update all her loved ones at once.

Then, in 2019, she got the news she’d hoped to hear since her diagnosis. There was no sign of cancer in her body. She was in remission, and she credits her team at Altru Cancer Center for this desired outcome.

“Throughout Jeff’s treatment and my treatment, we were always impressed with the doctors, PAs, nurses, radiation therapists and other employees,” Glenna says. “They’re knowledgeable, kind and caring people.”

Reflecting Kindness

As Jeff underwent cancer treatment, he received a neckbone pillow. A small gift, the pillow made him more comfortable through his difficult journey. Glenna received a similar gift. She received a port pillow. This small pillow helps prevent pain and irritation at the chemotherapy port site. It’s particularly helpful when wearing a seatbelt. These small acts of kindness weren’t overlooked. They inspired Glenna. She wanted to do something similar for others.

In October 2021, she figured out how to help others. She began donating journals to Altru Cancer Center patients. These journals help patients track their cancer journeys and allow them to note their response to therapies and how they feel each day. Glenna got the idea when shopping at a local store.

“I noticed the journals came in several colors—several of which are used for cancer awareness,” she says. “Then I found journals with inspirational quotes and decided it would be a good way to give back.”

Weathering the Storm

Glenna hopes the journals are useful for tracking progress. And for those who need it, she hopes the journals serve as something more. She hopes they get utilized to write things patients may not be comfortable saying out loud.

“A cancer diagnosis is the start of a whirlwind,” she says. “I always felt that writing things down made it easier to weather the storm.”

Today, the journals are handed out in the chemotherapy room at the Altru Cancer Center. However, they’re available to all patients, including those who don’t receive chemotherapy.

Since starting, Glenna suspects she’s given approximately 100 journals. While she doesn’t hear directly from patients, she’s heard stories of those who receive the journals. Their responses make it clear that Glenna’s small act of kindness has a big impact.

“I’ve been told that patients love the journals and that one lady cried when offered one,” Glenna says. “Hearing those stories lets me know I’m doing something right.”