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An Endurance Athlete Shares Her Story of Living Well With PV

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Published on December 1, 2015

How does exercise fit into your cancer diagnosis? Angie Feser is an MPN patient with a dual diagnosis of essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV) who also happens to be an endurance athlete.  Having competed in both Iron Man and Ultramarathons, Angie shares how she mentally handles her cancer diagnosis: “It is just one small part of me.”  She also discusses the benefits of having a trusted MPN expert as well as the personal benefits of phlebotomy treatment citing increased energy and stamina, a clearer mind, and a better outlook on life. 

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Transcript | An Endurance Athlete Shares Her Story of Living Well With PV

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power.  I'm Andrew Schorr.  It's important to connect you with other patients, and so sitting with me is Angie Feser from Covington, Washington, outside Seattle.  Thank you for being here.  

Angie Feser:

Thank you.  

Andrew Schorr:

Diagnosed with ET, essential thrombocythemia, just routine checkup, right? 

Angie Feser:

Correct, yeah.  

Andrew Schorr:

And your platelets were sky high. 

Angie Feser:

Right.  

Andrew Schorr:

And you said what? Did you have any clue what any of this was?  

Angie Feser:

No, not at all, and actually all my other blood work was great, so it was kind of an anomaly.  

Andrew Schorr:

And we should mention you're an athlete, a triathlete, so being kind of finely tuned and all systems go is critical for you to do what you like to do. 

Angie Feser:

Absolutely.  And it was a concern during my first diagnosis as to the activities I was doing—was doing, if that was detrimental to my condition, making things worse, or if actually it was helping it and helping me stay healthy.  That was a big question I had for several months. 

Andrew Schorr:

How were you feeling at that time? 

Angie Feser:

At that time, I was feeling pretty good. But when you do a lot of heavy training, fatigue is a common symptom, so it took a long time to figure out if it was the fatigue from the training or from the diagnosis and the condition.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  You had the good fortune of connecting with a specialist in MPNs, Dr. Bart Scott, who is often on Patient Power.  He became your doctor, and also your situation started to change to polycythemia vera, right? 

Angie Feser:

Right.  

Andrew Schorr:

And so that's a progression.  That must have been unnerving. 

Angie Feser:

Well, it was interesting, because my original diagnosis was with a different doctor that I actually was not happy with, and I didn't feel comfortable with the way he was dealing with my condition and my training.  And so I went in search of an expert and was referred to Dr. Scott by several sources.  And once I came here, felt comfortable right away, knew I was in the right place.  And they started looking at some of my blood work after a couple of tests and diagnosed me with PV rather—and ET at the time, which kind of—I had to reprocess it all over again. But the treatment was far better, and so I'm excited about that, actually better prognosis.  

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Just so people understand the extent that you're an athlete, what sort of events do you do?  How far do you run, bike, swim?  

Angie Feser:

Right.  Well, I'm a triathlete.  I've done all distances up to and including Ironman.   And the last couple years, I was actually shifted into ultra marathoning, which is trail running.  My longest events have been 50 kilometers, which is 34 miles with a lot of elevation and technical trail, with goals of doing farther distances.  So I'm exercising, training 10, 15, 18 hours a week, sometimes running up to 50 miles a week. 

Andrew Schorr:

Wow.  Okay.  Now, recently you had a new treatment for PV.  What did you have, and how did that make you feel?  

Angie Feser:

I had my very first phlebotomy a couple of weeks ago. 

Andrew Schorr:

So blood drawn off. 

Angie Feser:

Right.  They took 500 milliliters, a little bit off the top.  And that evening I started to feel better already.  Ironically, I had gone to Starbucks and had a decaf latte and actually thought they made a mistake, that it was caffeinated.  I had a lot of energy.  But when I woke up the next morning, I knew that it wasn't the latte.  My mind was clear, I had a lot more energy, my outlook was better. 

I felt like I had gone to the dentist when you have an X-ray, and they lay that blanket on you and someone had taken that off.  That's what I felt like.  Energy levels are way up, lot more stamina, my mind is sharper.  I just feel amazingly better, so, yeah. 

Andrew Schorr:

And we have to mention to people this whole idea of phlebotomy, I mean let's face it, sounds like bloodletting going back to medieval times, but it works. 

Angie Feser:

Yes.  And it's very simple, and it's not using medication or putting chemicals into your body.  It's basically withdrawing an amount of blood.  It's very simple, and I'm very excited about that prospect. 

Andrew Schorr:

So you're living with PV, but you're carrying on and maybe even accelerating your athletic endeavors.  How do you feel about things even though you have this diagnosis? 

Angie Feser:

Well, it's interesting.  I've processed it, but I feel like PV is just one small part of me.  I have challenges in my athletic training above and beyond this.  I have a problem with my right hip, I have problems with nutrition on long runs, and to me it's just one other piece of me to deal with and is part of the package. 

And I'm going to continue moving and running and swimming and biking as long as I can, and when that becomes a little bit too much of a challenge, I'm just going to modify it into something else.  But moving and being outside and being outdoors helps me deal with this, and I'm going to keep everything else as healthy as I can.  This is just one small part of me. 

Andrew Schorr:

Good for you.  And you have a great doctor to be your partner.  

Andrew Schorr:

Absolutely.  I am very encouraged by my doctor and the team at SCCA. 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  All right.  Good for you.  That's Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where you get treatment.  Thank you, Angie Feser. 

Angie Feser:

Thank you. 

Andrew Schorr:

Keep running.  

Angie Feser:

Absolutely.  

Andrew Schorr:

Keep climbing, okay?  And we'll look forward to cheering you on, okay? 

Angie Feser:

Thank you very much.  

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you so much.  Andrew Schorr with Angie Feser.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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