Pauline Segaar is cancer survivor of strong hope, courage and zest for life

Splitting time between her home in Brooten and her lake house south of Alexandria, Pauline Segaar basks in the peace she finds at the lake house which is her retreat. She treasures every sunset.

Staff Writer
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Six years ago this month, Pauline Segaar was told she had, at most, two years to live. Her motto is, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers,” a saying by Dorothy Bernard.

After two years of testing, trying to find out what was causing pain in her left shoulder and back, a scan in March 2006 showed a mass growing in her chest. Surgery soon followed, and the surgeon found Segaar’s thymus gland engulfed by the mass, which was also around her aorta and the phrenic nerve which operates her diaphragm.

The first miracle happened when, during the surgery, the surgeon phoned an oncologist for advice on how to proceed.

That oncologist was Dr. Bill Schimp. What he advised was, if the surgeon felt he had the skill, to remove as much of the mass as he possibly could. Segaar’s thymus and part of a lung were removed, and the mass cut away from her heart and phrenic nerve. If the nerve were damaged, Segaar would be on a ventilator for the rest of her life.

When she woke up, Segaar’s husband told her it was cancer. “I just never thought I would be someone who would get cancer. It just knocked the socks off me,” Segaar said.

But that feeling didn’t last long. “Within hours I found out there were people all over the place praying for me — even in Australia,” she said. “Response from family and friends was overwhelming.”

But the surgeon told her she had as short as two months, or if things went really well, up to two years to live. Segaar had so many questions, the first of which was, “What is going to happen to my kids?” Her sons were 19 and 12, and her daughter, 10.

After recovering from the surgery, she began six cycles of chemotherapy. That treatment kept the cancer at bay for nearly two years.

Another miracle was the location of the oncologist her surgeon had called: just 35 miles from her home in Brooten.

Segaar never let the chemo schedule rule her life or interfere with her living. Chemo was scheduled around important events.

A routine scan in 2008 found that the cancer had started to grow again in her upper left chest. Another round of chemo knocked the cancer out for 18 months. But in early 2010, a routine scan found more tumors.

Dr. Schimp had retired and Dr. Duane was then her oncologist. When Dr. Duane moved to another hospital doing hospice care, Segaar made sure he knew, “I was not going with him to hospice care.”

Now her doctor is in Alexandria. There have been many rounds of chemo in the past two years, using different drug “cocktails.” Following a scan earlier this month which showed the tumors had shrunk way back, Segaar is celebrating a two-month chemo break. This will allow her to prepare for her daughter’s high school graduation in May.

There are four main things that have strengthened Segaar the past six years. Keeping a sense of humor is very important. Her faith has given her hope, as well as the support and encouragement of friends and family. And she has had excellent medical care.

“When you get cancer, there are people who you would have thought would be there for you who aren’t, and there are people you would never have thought would be there who surprise you,” Segaar said.

Segaar ran into a woman at the grocery store, who years earlier she had thought had been aggressive, even mean. They had not had any contact for several years. The woman gave Segaar a big hug as tears fell down her face. She told Segaar, “I pray for you every single day. It’s just awful that something like this would happen to you.”

“I was extremely humbled,” Segaar said. “There are a lot of people out there who are for you, and you don’t even know it.”

When Segaar was diagnosed, she was close to her son’s Boy Scout troop. The Scouts did not really know how to react. One day, one of them called Segaar “Chemo”-sabe, referring to Tonto’s nickname for the Lone Ranger, Kemosabe. “Then we knew we were going to be fine,” she said.

Segaar always had a strong faith. “I always knew I was in God’s hands and that whatever happened would be for a reason. The whole cancer journey has reinforced that. I have learned to have faith in a faithful God and not in a particular outcome or test result,” she said. “God is still using me. If someone reading this can take hope from my story, then it’s worth it.”

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