Local leader using cancer to learn, help others

Honoring Choices: Local leader fights cancer, helps others

MINNEAPOLIS - With a title like Director of Personal Empowerment, it’s no surprise to learn that Keith Simons is someone who embraces change.

He transformed himself from a collegiate and professional football player in the 1970s, into a man who now helps people overcome poverty through Twin Cities Rise!, a non-profit that provides job training and confidence building classes.

"We help you build skills so you can find a job if you want," Simons said. "In this course, you learn how to change yourself. In doing that, you help others change themselves and, in turn, we transform our community.”

But lately Keith has faced a change of his own.

"Even when I walk around a lot, I have to catch my breath. Physically, I can't do what I used to do,” Simons said.

"Keeping a positive attitude at this particular time is kind of tough,” said Vince Fuller, Keith’s co-worker and longtime friend.

Simons' weekly commutes to the doctor began in March, when he developed back pain. A few months later he learned the pain was caused by cancer.

"What's happening today is they're going to do a bone scan and a CAT scan,” Simons said. "So this is to see if the chemotherapy is having any effect."

Surgeons found bladder cancer was the cause of his pain, but scans showed it didn't stop there.

"It's one thing for a doctor to tell you, 'Your cancer has metastasized to your lungs,’” Simons said. “It's another one to see it. You know, when you see your lungs full of tumors."

Simons could also see the impact it had on his family, so he made a decision.

"That I'm okay and I'm going to see this through,” Simons said. “It's going to be a challenge, a fight, but I'm up to it."

He’s up for more treatment, tests, scans and a medical trial at the University of Minnesota.

Thanks to chaplain Paul Galchutt, Simons was also up for changing his views on advance care planning. He has begun filling out a medical care directive to let his family and friends know his wishes, which include his fight for life and medical research.

"I genuinely want to hear, like, what does it mean for you?" Galchutt said.

"It's about change, you know?" Simons said. "This is like wills and insurance, you know, there are things that are about death but still -- do something about them. I did go through the phase of, ‘If I fill one of these out does that mean I'm giving up?’ Then I got to thinking about it and I'm like, 'No. I can apply any meaning I want to this.’”

Simons' meaning doesn’t just apply to himself. He’s also begun talking to Fuller and others about sharing their wishes.

"If there's a role model, he would be my role model,” Fuller said.

Simons said it’s all about embracing change.

“I do think, in some sort of way, this can help me work with others,” he said. “This is just another example of a part of life where there is something for me to learn.”

Click here for more information about Honoring Choices Minnesota and Advance Care Planning.


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