Consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, an Ironman Triathlon is not for the faint of heart — and completing it is a feat worth celebrating. After conquering the race, Dan Luers believed he was ready for whatever life had in store.
Nothing could have prepared him for a cancer diagnosis. But he credits his training regimen and care team at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) for helping him overcome it and ultimately become cancer-free.
“I feel a big part of how I got through my treatment was with exercise and attitude,” says Luers. “I’m lucky I had a positive attitude and a rather intense workout regimen prior to my diagnosis. I believe it helped me recover quicker.”
A troubling discovery
In 2018, Luers, then 45, was diagnosed with oligometastatic colon cancer. The diagnosis meant that although the cancer originated in his colon, it had also spread to two distant sites in his body: his pelvis and peritoneal cavity (located in the abdomen).
Luers had been suffering from intense symptoms of colon cancer for almost a year before his diagnosis. This is a common occurrence, according to Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at DF/BWCC. Patients under 50 often put off seeking medical attention for their symptoms, and nearly half will need to see more than one provider before getting the right diagnosis, she says. Colon cancer is still relatively uncommon in young patients, and the warning signs are often attributed to other more common causes.
“I should have seen the signs long before I was diagnosed. I would encourage others to pay closer attention to their bodies and any potential warning signs they might have,” Luers says.
Finding his strength
Luers was often nauseous — he would sometimes vomit ten or more times a day — and in intense pain. His problem was initially dismissed as irritable bowel syndrome; one doctor prescribed him a probiotic and instructed him to monitor his diet. After several months, his symptoms continued to worsen rather than improve. He finally underwent a colonoscopy and endoscopy, which revealed that he had cancer.
Luers was immediately placed under the care of Ng and began treatment at DF/BWCC. Because of his age and relatively low amount of metastatic disease, Ng planned to be aggressive. Following an initial surgery to remove the tumor in his colon, Luers underwent chemotherapy before returning to the operating room to remove other spots in his abdomen. He then received another round of chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy, to conclude his treatment. Since then, he has been cancer-free.
While effective, the intense treatments led to side effects that Luers is still dealing with today. But a positive attitude, support from friends and family (especially his wife Meagan), and consistent exercise helped him get through the low points, he says.
“The treatments were physically exhausting, but I forced myself to get up and go as soon as each treatment was complete,” Luers recalls. “When my workout was over, I always felt like a new man. It is amazing how much energy it gave me and helped jump start me back into normal life.”
While Luers isn’t planning another Ironman triathlon anytime soon, he has been able to get back to another one of his passions: beach volleyball. He plays a few times a week, and it’s not rare for him to be on the court from dawn until the late afternoon.
“When I first got my diagnosis I was scared, I wasn’t sure how much time I had left,” adds Luers. “But it’s made me count every day as a blessing, and I’m going to keep fighting every day. I hope that because of what I have been through, I can help other who are facing similar experiences.”