By Dorothy Bliskey
Melissa Bahr, 40, is a true inspiration and an amazing example of the positive spirit. Five years ago she was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Eighteen inches of her colon and surrounding lymph nodes were surgically removed, followed by six months of chemotherapy in an attempt to rid her body of the cancer. As the journey toward healing progressed, colon cancer struck two more times, invading additional lymph nodes. A second surgery and more chemotherapy ensued.
“My third time at this battle, we decided surgery wasn’t needed and that we would do oral chemo to knock it out,” Bahr said, noting she is still taking oral chemotherapy. “It’s going well. There are still a couple of spots that haven’t disappeared yet, but they will!”
Her positive energy is boosted, she says, by the fact that she has very positive-thinking physicians and an iron-clad network of family and friends who have been at her side throughout the ordeal.
It began with Melissa seeking medical attention for a slight amount of bleeding. Just to be on the safe side, her primary care physician ordered a blood test and colonoscopy. Tests revealed a cancerous tumor in her colon.
“I was stunned and in shock. In my mind, I knew I had taken care of myself, didn’t eat red meat, and was in pretty good health…this shouldn’t be happening to me,” Bahr said. ”There was no history of colon cancer in my family.”
First in her circle of positive support was her immediate family — husband Cory and their three children — Austin, now 21, Tyler, 18, and Sienna, 16. From there, an additional layer of support arrived to help her battle the cancer – her mother and her sister.
“My sister went with me to every chemo session. And my mom and other family members helped plan meals so I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking as I healed. So many friends in my community made and brought meals as well,” Bahr said.
At the start of the process, her doctor referred her to Dr. Sam Lubner, a Madison-based oncologist that Bahr refers to as a great match. “He is a positive-thinking doctor who is very proactive at doing his own research within the UW-system. My first visit to the oncology clinic made me start crying, but I was greeted with a huge hug from him. He warned me that he was a hugger. He is also a cancer survivor himself. That made me completely comfortable, and I trusted him fully.”
Dr. Lubner also supported Bahr when she decided to research alternative options that could be worked in with her traditional treatment plans. “He helped me research all the options I brought up.”
Part of that research resulted in Bahr initiating an exercise and healthy eating plan in her attempt to combat the disease. She has lost 25 pounds and conditioned her body to new levels of strength and endurance.
Her main approach to a healthier diet was to eliminate as much sugar as possible. “In my research, I learned how much your diet can affect diseases you are fighting,” Bahr said. “I also learned the negative affect sugar and processed foods have on cancer cells. After researching, I decided to eliminate dairy, glucose, and sugar from my daily diet. The first two have been very easy and I noticed an immediate change. Sugar, however, is still something I work on… but for the most part, I no longer eat it.”
Although she didn’t have a lifelong weight problem, Bahr says she had gained 20-30 pounds in the past 10 years due to thyroid disease and the resulting treatment. “No matter what I did or ate, I just couldn’t get rid of those pounds. It bothered me and I didn’t feel comfortable with myself.”
As for exercise, Bahr said she used to love to exercise, but would always get bored with it and quit.
After researching fitness ideas, Bahr joined Beachbody – an online fitness site that has you exercising in the comfort of your home. “I do it before I go to work in the morning, five or six days a week for 20-30 minutes each time,” she said, noting she works full-time at UW-Health in Middleton.
Bahr also signed up to be a Health and Fitness Coach with Beachbody. “It’s great to help others get healthier too,” she said.
“I do a variety of fitness programs and no longer get bored. I didn’t realize that not only would I be changing my life for the better, I would also be helping other women change theirs.”