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Staying positive

Jeff Spitzer, honorary co-chair of this years Relay for Life, said his wife thinks he does too much, but he believes going to work every day is one of the things that keep him going.

Jeff Spitzer, honorary co-chair of this years Relay for Life, said his wife thinks he does too much, but he believes going to work every day is one of the things that keep him going.

It would be different if I hated my job, but I love my job, he said.

Spitzer, owner of Spitzer Construction and S & S Cabinets, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in April 2004 during routine testing for carpel tunnel syndrome. He had no symptoms of cancer, but blood tests showed something was seriously wrong.

My doctor in Fargo said, I know theyre looking for leukemia, but you dont have it. Youre in too good shape, Spitzer said.

But bone marrow tests showed that he not only had leukemia, but the disease had been present for some time. His doctor sent him to the Mayo Clinic, where he underwent two courses of chemotherapy.

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After the second round of chemo, a bone marrow test showed the disease was in remission, and Spitzer returned home. He felt good for the next 11 months, but in the third week of May 2005, things changed.

I didnt feel good just tired, groggy, no ambition, he said.

The leukemia had returned. In just three months, 5 percent of his bone marrow was cancerous. Another double round of chemotherapy sent the leukemia back into remission, but at that point the doctors began looking for a stem-cell donor. Spitzer went through three days of chemotherapy and two days of full body radiation prior to the cell transfer, which by itself would take a toll on a body.

Normally any transplant patient will be back in the hospital at least once, Spitzer said. I was losing a pound a day.

His weight dropped from 160 to 140 pounds, his throat swelled shut and he was in intensive care with a 104-degree temperature.

Since returning home, Spitzer said the main reminder of all hes gone through is physical weakness. He walks for exercise, but he lost a lot of muscle mass and has little strength in his legs. He doesnt know when that will improve.

It could be a year. It could be five years, he said.

But Spitzer doesnt let anything stop him. The only lifestyle change hes made that really bothers him is giving up riding his Harley. Other than that, he works eight hours a day, only going home early if hes too tired.

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Spitzers advice to other cancer survivors is Look on the positive side. Theres always a positive side. I just look on the bright side and pray a lot.

For him, the positive side is family, including his six grandchildren.

I told the doc., Ive got six grandkids and I want to see them all graduate from high school. I want to see them all graduate from college. I want to see all of them get married. At the time the oldest one was 12. I told the doctor he had a job to do, he said.

At tonights Relay for Life, Spitzer will give his testimonial during the luminary ceremony. He also plans to circle the track, but doesnt think hell be walking this year.

Maybe next year, he said.

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