Ordinary Day, Extraordinary Achievement



Leaves crunch underfoot. Squirrels race from tree to tree. Pumpkins guard the front door.

It’s an afternoon in late October, and Jeremy Frie and the two kids just returned home from hunting pheasants along the Sheyenne River in Horace, ND.

Flush-faced and talking fast, Anna, 9, and Sawyer, 7, can’t wait to give their mom the full report. And she can’t wait to hear it. She rested while they were away so she could be fully awake and alert for this very moment.

Dressed in blue jeans and a turquoise sweater, she wears pink scuffs and looks thin. She’s lost 17 pounds. But to Anna and Sawyer, she’s still mom. With bright eyes and an open smile, she listens, nods her head, laughs with them.

Just a simple, ordinary moment with family, but these are the moments that mean the most to Heidi Frie. At age 40, she’s fighting cancer with everything she’s got.

A devastating diagnosis

An academic counselor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Heidi had just completed the school year when the unexpected changed her life.

After a couple weeks of vague abdominal pain and fatigue, she spiked a fever and had severe pain. A trip to the Sanford ER on June 2 led to a scan showing multiple abdominal masses. One had wrapped around her colon, causing an infection.

After several more tests, the diagnosis: late-stage ovarian cancer. Heidi was 39 years old.

“Shock is the only word that describes it,” says Jeremy, her husband of 16 years. “Just that morning she was at the gym exercising.”

Heidi recalls her reaction. “Numb,” she says. “It didn’t seem real.”

One step at a time

Reality set in with a daunting treatment plan: nine weeks of chemotherapy, major surgery to try to remove the cancer, more weeks of chemotherapy.

“Early on Dr. Snow told us it was important to celebrate steps along the way,” says Heidi. “That approach has really helped us.” Dr. Denise Snow is an oncologist at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.

They celebrated in little ways: going out for a frozen yogurt treat after the infection cleared. And big ways: participating in an ovarian cancer awareness run/walk after completing the first phase of chemotherapy and just days before surgery in Rochester.

And after the 10-hour surgery? “The next day she was up and walking,” says Jeremy.

“She knew the sooner she walked the sooner she’d have the strength to start her next phase of chemotherapy. She’s the strongest person I know and never complains.

I don’t know how she does it.”

The next phase of chemotherapy began shortly after.

Champions for change

Months of intense treatment had a surprising effect on Heidi and Jeremy: They became inspired to speak up for ovarian cancer awareness. They and 28 friends and family members participated in last September’s run/walk, raising much-needed funds for the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.

The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2011 and 15,460 women will die from the disease.

The run/walk was aptly called “Silent No More,” which also refers to the need to better understand and identify symptoms of ovarian cancer. Science has confirmed ovarian cancer has symptoms (bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary urgency/frequency), but these symptoms may not occur until the cancer is well advanced.

“More research is definitely needed,” says Jeremy.

Meaningful moments

Cancer or no cancer, Heidi puts good times with family at the top of her list. This past summer included a Twins game, fishing, weddings, days at the lake and more. With chemotherapy scheduled early in the week, she knew she’d feel best on weekends and planned accordingly.

She relies on faith, too, and appreciates a strong network of support. “We have a terrific group helping us -- family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and more,” she says. “They make life pretty easy with meal preparation, housecleaning, transporting the kids, whatever’s needed.”

Her spirit strong, Heidi struggles with how she feels physically. It varies widely, even from hour to hour. But no matter how she feels, she strives to keep the days normal for Anna and Sawyer, attending their activities whenever possible and greeting them after their day at school.

“If I can be upright when they get home, that’s good,” she says. “I’m grateful for that.”

For Heidi, an ordinary day is nothing short of extraordinary. And she achieves it with amazing strength, courage and grace.

Posted Date: January 2012

Ordinary Day, Extraordinary Achievement

Chemotherapy, surgery, more chemotherapy. Heidi Frie faces a difficult cancer battle. Yet she’s determined to live life as fully as possible, focusing on the day and cherishing every moment spent with family.