New Albin native Allie Colsch balancing cancer treatment with pursuit of physician’s assistant career goal; Benefit event planned for this Saturday

Some of her second family ... Allie Colsch (center) of New Albin is pictured with two of the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center nurses, Alex (left) and Alyse (right), who have been part of the nursing staff she has come to consider as her “second family” during her recent cancer treatment. Colsch says, “They offer so much more than just nursing care.” Submitted photo.

Generations of courage and support ... Allie Colsch (far right) of New Albin is pictured with her mother, Angie Colsch (far left) of New Albin, and her grandmother, Karen Galema (center) of Lansing. Allie Colsch says her family has been an instrumental part of her being able to undergo cancer treatment since the spring of this year while continuing to pursue her education and career goals of becoming a physician’s assistant. Submitted photo.

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

Twenty-four-year-old New Albin native Allie Colsch had an odd feeling in her chest one day earlier this spring.

She was very busy at the time, studying to be a physician’s assistant at the University of Dubuque. She attributed her  pain to issues like bad posture, indigestion or possibly inflammation of the ribs. Nothing seemed to fit, but she was in the middle of graduate school in an intensive program and she didn’t want to take the time to go to the doctor.

Finally, she decided it wasn’t going away and no amount of over-the-counter medication was making the pain better. Then she started running a fever.

She stated, “The fever made me see a doctor. I had pain for six to eight weeks before I had it checked out.”

Her diagnosis was a large tumor in the middle of her chest, more specifically diagnosed as a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.

According to the American Cancer Society, this type of lymphoma occurs in less than 10% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases and occurs mostly in young women, beginning with a tumor behind the sternum. Colsch’s tumor was very large, but it had not spread anywhere else. At that point, however, life took a dramatic turn for Colsch and her family.

Colsch’s family and friends have mobilized to host a fund raiser for her expenses that aren’t being covered by insurance. The benefit event will be held at TJ Hunters Reception Hall in Lansing this Saturday, August 25. At 1 p.m. a bake sale is being held in the Kerndt Brothers Community Center to also help raise funds for the family. Activities at TJ Hunters will begin at 2 p.m. and include raffles, a chance auction, a meal and more, with a live auction beginning at 5 p.m. Anyone who cannot attend may visit the Allie Colsch Facebook Benefit online or contact one of the benefit organizers.

Those interested in helping or donating may call or text Tara Kolsrud at 563-568-7114, Shelly Galema at 563-568-8028 or Beth Galema at 563-568-7432. Area businesses, family and friends, and other organizations have generously donated items for the auction.

In addition to her cancer expenses, other expenses such as travel and additional treatments are not covered by insurance. Luckily, Colsch is still covered by her parents’ insurance because she is a student, but additional non-covered expenses mount up quickly. Because of her age, her healthcare providers recommended that she undergo fertility treatments before she started chemotherapy treatments because the type of chemotherapy she receives has a high rate of creating infertility in someone so young. She and her fiancé, Ricky Humes, hope that someday they will be able to have children when all of this is behind them.

In addition, all the travel between the University of Dubuque, Iowa City and La Crosse, WI for treatments and follow-up adds up quickly.  None of these expenses are covered by insurance.

Having grown up in New Albin, Allie Colsch is the daughter of Bruce and Angie Colsch, and the granddaughter of Gary and Karen Galema of Lansing and the late Robert and Lucille Colsch. She graduated from Kee High School in Lansing and attended Luther College in Decorah, where she met her fiancé. Next came the decision to enter the Physician’s Assistant program at the University of Dubuque. That program of study is intense, and the addition of enduring chemotherapy has brought even more challenges.

Colsch elaborated, “It’s been a real challenge to do chemo and try to keep up with school. The University of Dubuque worked with me so that I could continue my studies because if I took time off, I wouldn’t be able to start again for a year, since all the programs are sequential. I talked with the faculty and they all said they would work with me. The whole program has been very supportive. They offered me a medical leave of absence, but I didn’t want to lose that time. I worked hard to get into PA school. I couldn’t fathom putting it all off another year. I wanted to try to keep up and they’ve been very helpful.”

Colsch was diagnosed March 24 of this year and started her first round of chemotherapy in April, after delaying for a few weeks to first undergo the recommended fertility treatment in Iowa City. Provided there are no complications, the last round of chemotherapy was slated to be completed August 14.

Colsch explained, “I have had six rounds of chemotherapy. When I have a round of chemo, it is a continuous infusion of chemo for five days in the hospital. I’ve had the usual side effects from chemo, such as nausea, the lack of energy, hair loss and pain. I get injections to stimulate my bone marrow and in young people, they are painful. They said at the beginning if my PET scans are not clear, I might have to have radiation as well, but my PET scan was clear before the fourth treatment so if they continue to be clear, the chemo should be finished then. I will continue to have PET scans every few months as a follow up.”

Colsch credits many with helping her to fight this disease, “Besides my fiancé, definitely my family keeps me going. School keeps me going because I must keep up with my studies. One of the most supportive groups is the nurses at Gundersen. I can’t say enough about them! They offer so much more than just nursing care.

I’m always there with my books and my computer. They ask me what I’m studying and offer to help. This final round  of chemo is between my summer and fall semester. The nurses are planning a big party to celebrate the end of my chemo. They are phenomenal. They’ve been a second family to me.”

The entire experience has proven to many that Colsch is a determined young woman who has met this challenge head-on. There is little doubt that her experience will give her great empathy for her future patients.

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