By EMILIE THIESSEN, Staff Writer
Stearns County Commissioner Don Otte hasn’t allowed cancer to get the best of him.
“Back in 1992, the neurologist stood at the foot of my bed and said ‘You are going to die in five years.’ I said ‘No, I am not.’”
Nearly 20 years later at age 66, Otte is still living his life to the fullest, as not just a commissioner, but also a husband to his wife Edna, father to his three children Pam, Jane and Jeff, and grandpa to his six lively grandkids.
Otte has lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic cells of the immune system, and since his diagnosis in 1992 has had six chemotherapy treatments after the tumors spread from his spinal column to his lymph nods, kidneys, liver and femur.
As of August of this year, the Sauk Centre native is still not cancer free, with a remaining tumor in a cluster of abdominal lymph nods.
“It is has been kind of ongoing … I consider myself lucky to be alive yet,” Otte said, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Though chemotherapy has been a large part of his everyday life for the past twenty years, Otte said he has also put a great deal of stock in non-traditional treatments.
Not long after being diagnosed and being told he wouldn’t live to see the turn of the century, Otte started taking shark cartilage pills, which many doctors and patients alike believe can stop or slow the growth of cancer by suppressing blood vessels and cutting off the tumor’s blood supply. For more than a year, Otte took 90 shark cartilage capsules a day, while holding off on chemotherapy treatments.
According to the American Cancer Society, shark cartilage is primarily promoted as an alternative to traditional cancer treatments but as more patients seek non-traditional treatments, the use of shark cartilage has been studied for use alongside standard therapies.
Otte saw his tumor shrink considerably after a year and a half of taking the capsules. The problem with shark cartilage, Otte said, was the expense. At more than $1,000 a month for just the pills, Otte couldn’t afford to be on the pills long term.
Also during that time, Otte reached out to a doctor specializing in alternative medicine in Wyoming that worked with people interested in exploring nontraditional treatments for cancer.
Otte said the doctor had a more rigid screening process for patients — something he appreciated — which included inquiring about personal habits like wearing a seat belt.
“She wanted to know if I cared enough about myself to wear a seat belt before she would even treat me,” he said.
After consulting with the doctor and reading multiple books on the subject of alternative cancer treatments, Otte became interested in the adverse effects of mercury on the body, a substance found in amalgam fillings for teeth. Dental amalgam is a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay, containing approximately 50 percent elemental mercury, according to the federal Food and Drug administration.
In response to concerns about heightened mercury levels in the body, countries continue to restrict the use of amalgam fillings, including Sweden, Austria Germany, Norway and Japan. Otte followed suite by undertaking a three-week process with a dentist who removed all of his amalgam fillings. Otte’s blood mercury levels started to drop right away, he said. Otte now has only gold fillings in his teeth.
“To this day, I think that was the best thing I ever did, that is what has given me better chances of survival.”
After the taking the shark cartilage pills and removing his amalgam fillings, Otte underwent another round of chemotherapy.
“I give credit to getting the mercury out of my teeth so my immune system could work with the chemotherapy to knock the cancer down.” he said. “Maybe I am wrong, but I really believe that.”
Since 1998, just four years after being diagnosed and in the middle of a chemotherapy session, Otte ran for fifth district Stearns County Commissioner and won. He has been County Commissioner ever since and said he has really enjoyed serving his area.
“This job must be healthy for me,” Otte said. “I am 20 years older and I am just as healthy or healthier now than I was then … it gets my mind off of stuff, and keeps me busy. I don’t know what else I would do.”
Otte’s doctor did not have good news for him in August, who told Otte that tumor had returned to his abdominal lymph nods, but Otte said he remains optimistic and the new tumor just doesn’t bother him that much.
“I have learned to accept it,” he said. “I have had a good life and have lasted 12 more years than I was supposed to, according to one doctor … but the cancer is not going to get me, it will be a pneumonia or something else where my immune
system is that challenged.”
As far as continuing to utilize non-traditional forms of treatment, Otte said he will do anything to keep his body healthy, but has found that a combination of conventional and non-conventional treatments have worked the best for him.
“It seemed the homeopathic and alternative treatments would not totally annihilate the cancer,” he said. “It was always just right there.”
Otte said he recommends individuals battling cancer to keep a good attitude and explore all their options when it comes to treatments. Otte said he is very lucky to have come across new and unconventional treatments.
“I just think all that really helped me out,” he said.