Perseverance Story: Dale and Lynda Spitler

Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland Photography.

Over the course of four weeks, members of the community will be sharing their story.  These stories are about individuals and their experience with cancer. They are the reason the Lowell community comes together for the Pink Arrow Football Game.  Each story is written by the person you will read about or by someone on their behalf. We thank them for sharing their story and courage.

Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland and is used with permission.   Heather donates her time to get to know those she is photographing and capture an image to be used with each story.  You can visit her photography website and Facebook page for more information about her work.  

Heather is also the volunteer coordinator for Pink Arrow events.  If you are interested in helping out at the Kidz Zone during Riverwalk (Saturday, July 14), Community Day (Thursday, Aug. 16), or game day (Thursday, Aug. 30) please contact her by calling 616-291-8907 or send an email to Heather.Eveland@gmail.com.  Heather will let you or your group know what help is needed to determine the best fit.  

The following is the story Dale and Lynda Spitler shared with Amanda Schrauben of Lowell’s First Look, who wrote on their behalf. 

If you were to see Dale and Lynda Spitler walking down the street or out shopping, you wouldn’t think much about them.  They look like an average retired couple. Dale was born and raise in Kalamazoo. He has a booth at North Star Antiques, offering some of his personal antique inventory and items he has handcrafted.  One of his specialities is working with barn doors. He also enjoys working with wood to create frames, shelves which include coat hooks, and more.

However, like most, they are living an underlying story passersby do not realize is taking place.  Lynda was diagnosed with breast cancer March of 2017. Within months of the diagnosis, Dale was told he had bladder cancer.  This could be considered the “for worse” portion of their wedding vows, said 45 years ago. Yet they’ve endured diagnosis and treatment together with a unique understanding of the other’s experience.  

The Spitlers, residents of Lowell, live in a home they designed and watched be built 20 years ago.  The log house is nestled away on a quiet street. They had a chance encounter while Dale was in Grand Rapids attending Kendall College of Art of Design.  Soon after they met they started dating. One might say it was meant to be when, together, they purchased two chairs and a couch at an antique auction during their second date.  They share a love of antiques, cooking (Dale is the cook in the family) and baking (Lynda the making portion and Dale the eating aspect), and traveling in a camper. They never anticipated sharing a cancer diagnosis six months apart.  

Lynda first dealt with skin cancer on her back and face.  Then at 67, she had her first-ever mammogram. It was performed on a mammogram bus in a Meijer parking lot.  She looked at it as checking off a box. She never looked at having a yearly mammogram as an item on her to do list.  After completing the procedure, Lynda received a phone call two days later. She needed further testing. Eventually a biopsy, followed by a lumpectomy, was performed and lymph nodes taken.  She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She would start chemotherapy treatments and then radiation.

The worst part of the treatment program for Lynda was dealing with needles.  They make her cringe. They give her anxiety. And for someone who was only ever in the hospital for the birth of her son, needles and medical treatment were far from her comfort zone.  But she knew the needles and time spent in the hospital was her avenue to life. Treatment made her tired. The loss of energy made her yearn for sleep most days.  It took an effort to eat and do laundry.  She even spent three days in the hospital as a result of a rare flu while undergoing chemotherapy.

For Lynda, treatment is over.  Chemotherapy ended in January of this year.  Radiation was complete in March. Her cancer was removed with no signs of returning.  But side effects linger. Foods she used to love does not taste good. She feels tingling in her arms and legs at times and experiences a loss of balance.  These are symptoms which may or may not clear up as time goes on. Lynda refers to her “chemo brain” as she tries to recall information which doesn’t come as quickly as it used to.  Her hair has grown back, but she still sees an unfamiliar face when looking into a mirror. Cancer may have left but reminders remain.

Enter Dale.  First he dealt with his wife’s diagnosis and treatment.  He noticed blood in his urine, which he ignored at first.  He figured it would go away. But it didn’t. Eventually he would make an appointment with a doctor.  Investigating symptoms and testing would lead to the discovery of Stage 2 bladder cancer in fall 2017.  

Dale describes seeing spiderwebs on a screen as he looked at images of the cancer on his bladder.  He would undergo surgery to remove the superficial cancer, thankful it had been caught before becoming Stage 3, where treatment includes removal of the bladder.  Bladder cancer is on the rise. It’s the 5th most common cancer in men. Superficial bladder cancer is when it is found only in the lining as opposed to invasive, which has moved to the muscle layer.  

He is still receiving treatment.  Every three months he undergoes a procedure once a week for three weeks.  This treatment involves injecting drugs, with a germ which is related to the one which causes tuberculosis, into his bladder.  This drug is used to keep any cancer from returning. This four times a year treatment will continue for another two and half years.  The process doesn’t have side effects like chemotherapy, but there’s still a physical and emotional toll.

Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland Photography.

As the Spitlers each dealt with a cancer diagnosis, they also had to think about their 12-year-old grandson who lives with them.  He has been with them since he was a baby and has ODD and ADHD. They’ve cared for him over the years, however it was Grant who would also stand by them through their diagnosis and treatment.  

Both Lynda and Dale will continue to be checked to make sure their cancer does not return.  They are currently trying to get life back in order now that Lynda has regained her strength, although she proceeds with caution as not to overdo.  They hope to get back into growing vegetables and keeping flower gardens. They’re eager to continue exploring their love of antiques. They’re ready to live.

But this new life for them comes with a different perspective.  They both have seen others battling cancer come in for treatment.  They have seen what the disease can do to a person. They’ve experienced it themselves.  In telling their story, they hope others will be proactive when it comes to healthcare. Lynda doesn’t want other women to put off having a yearly mammogram, wondering if she had continued to wait whether her cancer discovery could have been worse.  Even through self-exams Lynda did not feel any lumps which women are told to look for; the mass removed from Lynda’s breast was something undetected during self-exams.

The Spitlers would like to thank Ethel Steers and Pink Arrow Pride for their support in their time of need.  They also mentioned the staff at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion being friendly, courteous, and helpful. Pastor Brian Harrison of their church, Alaska Baptist Church, also spent time with Lynda when she was in the hospital and sat with her when Dale had his surgery.  Faith and friends helped the Spitlers through their cancer journey.

Lynda would also like special recognition to go out to her long-time friend Sharon Zuyddyk who sat with her in the hospital giving Dale a break.  Sharon also brought chicken bouillon soup and windmill cookies – two things Lynda enjoyed and could tolerate eating. Lynda and Dale are looking forward to traveling around Michigan and camping in their Airstream with Grant this summer.  

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