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Our Patients. Their Stories. Merle Schotanus

Our Patients. Their Stories. Merle Schotanus

Merle Schotanus is committed to the Prouty. The 84-year-old cancer survivor has captained the Grantham (New Hampshire) Mountaineers Prouty team since 2008, helping to raise money for cancer research and patient services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC).

When he was diagnosed with cancer for a second time in July 2014, the self-described “stubborn” former Army Colonel was determined to participate in the Prouty the following July. In November 2014, he had a large, malignant tumor removed from his right lung, then underwent four courses of chemotherapy at NCCC from January to April 2015, and immediately followed that with pulmonary rehabilitation at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC).

The pulmonary rehab was recommended by his D-H care team and is fairly rigorous, consisting of 24 sessions of exercises and education. But Schotanus was especially eager to complete the rehab because it was also “a great way to get in shape for the Prouty. I didn’t want to let my team down. I was going to ride one way or another.”

On June 23, just three weeks shy of the Prouty, his D-H oncologist Konstantin Dragnev, MD, gave him the green light to participate in the Prouty. But after losing 20 percent of his right lung, his lung capacity was greatly reduced. So Schotanus acted to make sure he could complete what he fondly calls "the Octogenarian Prouty 20"  bike ride from Hanover to Lyme and back. He bought an electric-assist bicycle from Omer and Bob’s in Lebanon, N.H., to help him make it up the course’s two large hills. He also purchased an oxygen system on the advice of his DHMC caregivers. Among those who helped Schotanus determine what equipment he would need to achieve his Prouty goal were pulmonary rehab coordinator Heidi Pelchat, RRT, cardiac rehab exercise specialist Michelle Rylander, cardiology nurse Kristen Frechette, RN, and Marianne Lillard, RN who had befriended Schotanus in 2008 when he underwent cardiac rehab at DHMC.

By the day of the Prouty, he was ready. With his wife, Helen, biking alongside him and a 4.5-pound mobile oxygen concentrator in his bike saddlebag, Schotanus successfully completed the Prouty course.

“It went off fine,” he says. “I hooked up the oxygen before I went up the River Road and Chieftain hills, and I went up both hills with energy to spare! It was a proud day for this old guy. It was the first time I’d been able to do that in eight years.”

Not only did Schotanus complete the ride, but his 62-member team raised $35,100 for the Prouty, a Grantham Mountaineers record. Additionally, the team was joined by its two 2015 Grantham Prouty Scholars. These are Grantham third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grade students that Schotanus’ team recognizes every year for their achievements in the humanities, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and athletics. One student participated in the Prouty 10K walk while the other completed the 35-mile bike ride with his father. The team wrapped up its 2015 Prouty campaign in late August with a tour of NCCC’s research labs.

Since the Prouty, Schotanus has been working in his garden and spending time with his daughter, two granddaughters, and three great grandchildren, who all live “within a stone’s throw.” He grew up on an Illinois dairy farm and moved to Grantham 41 years ago, where he was a fruit grower for 22 years. Now Schotanus grows flowers and an assortment of berries and vegetables in nine large, raised beds.

He completed a CT scan in late October and Dr. Dragnev declared him "free of cancer!” He acknowledges that, “I’m still getting my strength back. I haven’t gotten my energy totally back, but I’m up and I’m moving. I’m not moving too far or too fast, but I’m moving and that’s important.”

When he looks back on this past summer’s Prouty, Schotanus says, “I still think of it and smile. It was great—like my father-in-law declared when he climbed Long's Peak in Colorado at age 65- it’s something that no one will ever take away from me.”

Learn more about The Prouty here.


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