Resource Blog/Media/LCI Zeidan Reimers HERO


Cancer Survivor's Mindset: 'If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me'

Baptist Health Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute

Any oncologist will tell you that when it comes to fighting cancer, the physician’s knowledge, experience and skill – and even the most sophisticated technology – can only get you so far. Successful outcomes depend so much on the patient’s own attitude and how they approach their treatment.


Such is the case with Judy Reimers, who in late 2022 learned she had rectal cancer. She had noticed blood in her stools for a year or so but never imagined it could be anything serious.


“Never for a second did I think I had cancer,” says the trim and athletic 63-year-old real estate broker from Boca Raton. “I’ve always been extremely healthy. I eat healthy and I get lots of exercise, and I thought it was just hemorrhoids causing the bleeding.”


Missed opportunity

Ms. Reimers had had a colonoscopy in July 2020 and was given the “all-clear” then, although her doctor told her afterwards that he had removed some polyps along with some small hemorrhoids.


“He told me if I have any problems, I should get back to him,” she recalls. “A year later, I noticed some blood on the toilet paper so I went back to see him.” They discussed the possibility that it could be her hemorrhoids but he suggested she have another colonoscopy just to be sure. Ms. Reimers wasn’t too worried, however, and decided to forego the follow-up colonoscopy.


Fast forward to September 2023. Ms. Reimers’ bleeding still had not gone away over the previous two years. Compounding her concern was that she had been feeling sick and tired for months and was losing weight, too – 30 pounds. “I went to a variety of my doctors but no one could find any problem with me or my labs,” she says. “But I know my body well and I knew something was wrong.”


Cancer diagnosed

When Ms. Reimers eventually was diagnosed with stage 3 lower rectal cancer, she couldn’t believe it at first. “I was shocked. I couldn’t even talk about it,” she recalls, her voice choked with emotion. “But then it all made sense. Cancer was in my body, fighting my strong immune system.” She now knew why she had been feeling ill and losing weight.


Ms. Reimers was referred to Yousef Zeidan, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist at Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, and to Warren Brenner, M.D., a medical oncologist there. “When I first saw Ms. Reimers, she had been diagnosed with lower rectal adenocarcinoma, a locally advanced rectal cancer, that fortunately was not metastatic,” says Dr. Zeidan.


Watchful waiting

Ms. Reimers’ type of cancer, because of its location in the lower rectum, is typically treated with a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, according to Dr. Zeidan. The surgery, however, would require a permanent colostomy, as part of her lower rectum would have to be removed. Ms. Reimers made it clear to the team at Lynn Cancer Institute she did not want that.


Yousef Zeidan, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncologist at Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health

“It’s understandable,” Dr. Zeidan acknowledges, adding that Lynn Cancer Institute is seeing more and more patients with lower rectal cancer who are seeking a colostomy-free approach to treatment. “It’s a drastic adjustment for patients and it can have wide-ranging effects on their lifestyle. Because Ms. Reimers has a very active lifestyle, she wanted to avoid a permanent colostomy at all costs.”


Instead, Ms. Reimers opted for “non-operative management” of her rectal cancer, which entailed six weeks of radiation therapy in late 2022, followed by eight cycles of chemotherapy over a span of four months.


“With non-operative management of rectal cancer, once we complete the radiation and chemotherapy, instead of going directly to surgery, we take a ‘watchful waiting’ approach and follow the patient very closely every three months for the first three years after treatment,” Dr. Zeidan explains. This approach has been effective in about two-thirds of patients with lower rectal cancer, including Ms. Reimers, he adds.


Today, Ms. Reimers has “no evidence of disease,” according to Dr. Zeidan. “She is now being monitored every three months with scans and proctoscopies, which are sort of a mini colonoscopy.” Ms. Reimers says she has had seven proctoscopies over the past 18 months but calls them a minor inconvenience if they can help doctors stay vigilant for recurrence of her cancer.


Fighting spirit

A cancer patient’s attitude plays an important role in their outcome, Ms. Reimers believes, who notes that the healing begins in one’s mind. For every one of her appointments at Lynn Cancer Institute, she wore a different Life is Good t-shirt, each one sporting a different message of hope and positivity.


Ms. Reimers says that taking responsibility for yourself is essential to your cancer journey. “There is so much that all of the wonderful doctors and staff at Lynn Cancer Institute can do but the bottom line is, I know I have to be responsible for me,” Ms. Reimers says. She recites 10 little words that resonated with her during her treatment: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” “Each word has only two letters but taken together they form a powerful statement,” she says.



Saying she is “not a quitter,” Ms. Reimers says she forced herself to do everything she could to get herself through this. “I did my best to get outside and get some exercise every day, even if it was just a walk around the block…and I was used to walking several miles a day before my diagnosis,” she says. “It took me many months to work my way back up to that – one block at a time, literally – but I’m back to that now.”


Dr. Zeidan calls Ms. Reimers an excellent patient with a “fighting spirit” who was determined to do whatever it would take to ensure a successful outcome.


“She played a crucial role in her own treatment,” he recalls. “She was well-informed and knew what to expect, she was motivated, and she kept a positive attitude the entire time, pushing through the side effects. She was always punctual, too – even when she was undergoing chemotherapy – and she stayed active and walked every day during treatment, which really helped ease her side effects.”


Ms. Reimers says she made the right decision seeking treatment at Lynn Cancer Institute. “I definitely got the care I needed from the doctors, nurses and staff,” she says. “They cared for me as a human, not a number. Everyone I had contact with there was true to what I needed and knew what they were doing.”


Family history


Judy Reimers, second from left, with her father and her siblings 


Ms. Reimers says she now is the third generation in her family to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Following her own cancer treatment, Ms. Reimers’ maternal aunt was diagnosed with the disease. She also learned that her maternal grandfather had had colorectal cancer. And at her urging after her own diagnosis, Ms. Reimers’ brother went for his first colonoscopy. Several precancerous polyps were found that will require additional treatment, she says.


In the meantime, Ms. Reimers is dedicating herself to helping other patients with colorectal cancer. “When you’re in the weeds going through it, it’s tough to find anything positive but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “I want to be that person who can help someone else get thought it. It helps with your stress knowing that we’re all in it together.”

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