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Overcoming cancer and managing diabetes with proper fitness and nutrition

October 10, 2018

Staying active is how Linda Deabenderfer rolls with life. Going to the gym has been a regular part of her routine and she’s been a member of the S&T Wellness Center at IRMC since 2012. Her regular workout consists of a cardio session then hitting the weight machine circuit.

These days, Deabenderfer is lively and her health is robust. It’s a remarkable accomplishment considering she has just emerged from two difficult life challenges: diabetes and breast cancer. Deabenderfer, who is in her early 70s, attributes her success to a habit of regular exercise and good nutrition.

Diagnosed with diabetes

Deabenderfer’s recent health history made her case exceptional. In 2012, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It was puzzling. After all, she spent her life at a healthy weight, eating good food, and being active.

“I couldn’t figure it out. I was active. I felt good. And when I went to the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I was the skinny one,” she recalls.

Adding to the frustration was that the medications she was prescribed could not get the diabetes under control. Through it all, Deabenderfer persevered and kept her health strong … until the cancer diagnosis.

A greater battle

In 2013, Deabenderfer was diagnosed with mammary Paget disease, a rare form of breast cancer. When examined more closely, another tumor was found inside the breast. She needed a mastectomy. There was a one-month period between the diagnosis and the scheduled surgery so Deabenderfer continued her workouts.

Getting healthy for a mastectomy immediately after a breast cancer diagnosis demands mental fortitude. “The activity kept my mind off things,” she says. “The exercise strengthened me physically, so I didn’t have to worry about being weak. I focused on getting as healthy as possible for my surgery.”

There and back again

Knowing that she had a long battle in front of her, Deabenderfer spent her time at the Wellness Center strengthening her body in preparation. Afterwards, her surgeon, Dr. Andrew Billion, asked to see how well she could flatten her arms up against the wall. Within a few visits, she was successful. Additionally, her test results for her removed lymph nodes came back negative. Dr. Billion praised Deabenderfer’s progress and cleared her for exercise.

“I worked closely with an exercise physiologist, so I wouldn’t hurt myself. She was very kind and caring and watched over me constantly. All the staff members were so thoughtful,” she says.

Under the care of oncologist, Dr. Gopala Amar Ramineni, Deabenderfer endured six chemotherapy treatments and 52 Herceptin treatments at the Indiana Cancer Center. During chemotherapy, she was unable to go to the gym. Her exercise physiologist gave her a chart of exercises for her to do at home, so she followed the charts and took walks.

Full recovery

In addition to beating cancer, something else happened to complete Deabenderfer’s journey back to health and wellness. In February 2017, she went to an endocrinologist, Dr. Mushtaq Syed and learned why she could not control her diabetes. She had been misdiagnosed. She actually had Type 1 diabetes and was on the wrong treatment program.

Again, her membership to the Wellness Center helped her. A registered dietitian, Lori Smith, had an office next to the gym, in the same building. Under the dietitian’s counseling and care, Deabenderfer was able to finally get her diabetes under control. She was thrilled. The medication she was taking caused her to lose a lot of weight, but with her new regimen she was able to regain 20 pounds while maintaining her strength.

“No more flabby arms!” she exclaims. “I have friends say how good I look now that my weight is back up.”

Deabenderfer knows her fitness regimen has enabled her to live a normal life through her significant health trials. She advises everyone to stay active and not be sedentary. Whenever she goes for checkups her physician, Dr. Richard Sandrowicz ask her if she is still attending the gym and exercising. Happily, her answer is always yes.

“The staff at the S&T Wellness Center are kind, caring and thoughtful people,” she says. “They are always ready and willing to answer questions or assist on the exercise machines. Members are friendly, which creates a positive and encouraging atmosphere. I have even made good friends and I would recommend this gym to anyone.”

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