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Melanoma Treatment and the Road to Recovery

Jill Zeilstra (63) of Cedar Rapids says it has been years since she last visited a dermatologist, “my sister convinced me to get checked, it had been long enough!” Zeilstra’s favorite hobbies are swimming and kayaking – hobbies that have exposed her to plenty of sunshine over the years.

She visited her dermatologist in December 2018, “Of all things, the doctor was concerned about a dry patch of skin on my shoulder. I would have never thought twice about it,” says Zeilstra. A sample was biopsied and results confirmed melanoma. Surgery was needed to remove the lesion and Zeilstra chose Dr. John Vander Zee, plastic surgeon with the Advanced Melanoma and Skin Cancer Clinic at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center, for the procedure. “He created a thorough map for testing and clearly communicated the process of removal to me. He did a fabulous job and we didn’t waste any time,” says Zeilstra.

In addition to removing the melanoma, three nearby lymph nodes were removed for testing. The procedure was a success and the lymph nodes were free of cancer cells. Zeilstra’s next phase of treatment involved healing her shoulder at the surgery site.

Zeilstra has worked at a local fulfillment center for the last 17 years, a job that often requires lifting heavy objects above her head. Given that the surgery site was on her shoulder, physical therapy was necessary. “I was very anxious about the healing process. I wondered when I would be strong enough to go back to work,” explains Zeilstra.

She began working with Matt Schmitz, cancer exercise specialist at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. He aligned exercises and therapy with her duties at work and what she physically does for hobbies, relaxation and enjoyment. “Jill is like many people that I see,” says Schmitz, “She’s very active in the summer months and wants to get back to her regular activities and work.” He explains the first goal was to regain range of motion lost during treatment to ensure there would be no lingering side effects. Once she regained proper range of motion, they worked to build up her strength so she could confidently go back to work and resume her normal lifestyle and activities.

“The team at the Community Cancer Center has bent over backwards for me. Whenever I was worried they put me at ease,” says Zeilstra.

Today Zeilstra is feeling strong enough for work and is looking forward to the summer months. She’ll continue to see her dermatologist for routine skin exams and hopes her story encourages others to do the same.

Learn more about the wide range of free educational and supportive services through the Nassif Community Cancer Center.


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