Community rallies to help cancer-stricken local businessman

Dean Coleman can’t wait to say good riddance to the pandemic and return to less stressful  times when he and his wife Janna can resume normal operations at the fitness gym they  own and operate in College Heights.

After being forced to shut the doors of The Movement Group Fitness Mecca for three months when COVID-19 first arrived in the province, the Colemans have had to adjust to a new reality of fewer people in the gym and fewer classes to respect provincial heath orders which now have them shut down again.

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The financial hit to their business has made it difficult to keep up with lease payments for the gym and now Dean faces an even more serious obstacle – dealing with cancer surgery for the second time in his life. 

On Thursday in Vancouver General Hospital, a surgical team will open up his washboard abdomen to remove a 15-centimetre Stage 4 neuroendrocrine tumour from his liver. It’s the same type of cancer that forced doctors to remove part of his right lung and diaphragm eight years ago. His symptoms – diarrhea, stomach upset, loss of energy – started about the same time as the pandemic began in March and it wasn’t until early September  that his cancer was diagnosed.

“I’ve learned a lot from the second go-round here and I think if I can give anybody insights or inspiration, I’m all for it,” said Dean.

Dean was playing in a hockey tournament in the winter of 2012 at age 38 when cancer first reared its ugly head. He was struggling to catch his breath and knew something was wrong.

“I was shaking, had fevers, I couldn’t breathe on the ice, it was awful,” he said. “I couldn’t even have a beer after the game. You know then, you’re super-sick. It felt like I had pneumonia, I was coughing, it was really bad. 

“It was worse than this one. This one was nasty for certain things but I could still function for certain things, the polar opposite of the last one. We didn’t realize at the time that it was spreadable. They took out the tumour and they kept a follow-up for five years and it was clean in the lung. So we went on our merry way and didn’t have a clue that this mass was growing in my liver. I didn’t think it was anything more than irritable bowel syndrome and that it could be treated.”

A preliminary results of a biopsy showed the tumour was a slower-growing low-grade tumour, which usually means a better outcome for surgery. The liver will regenerate itself and he’s hopeful there will be enough healthy tissue left for that to happen. The resiliency of the organ allowed the tumour to grow to Stage 4 and it didn’t give him any symptoms until the growth had significantly progressed.

Dean and Janna have two daughters – 11-year-old Maija and nine-year-old Kenlee – and he says his health concerns have been more difficult for his family members to deal with than it is for him.

“I think it’s harder on spouses and the kids, I really do,” Dean said. “There’s anxiety with the kids, I can really see it and that’s the worst part. I think being a spectator is worse than being in the driver’s seat, to be honest. That’s the part that bugs me more than anything else.”

Dean is a full-time real estate agent for Royal LePage but also teaches Mossa indoor cycling, strength/functional training and aerobics group classes at the gym with Janna and the other instructors. Always a fitness buff, he’s been active in hockey, volleyball, downhill/water skiing, mountain biking and tennis for most of his life and now he does most of those activities with his family. In 1997 he became a certified personal trainer, which led to a job a few years later as manager of Gold’s Gym. The Colemans bought the gym in 2013 and expanded it a year later. 

During a brutal recovery period after his lung cancer surgery, Dean built his aerobic capacity beyond what it was before he had cancer and he’s continued his own fitness vigilance. After his surgery Thursday, he won’t be able to lift anything for eight-to-12 weeks. Neither of his cancer treatments require chemotherapy or radiation. They hope to be back in Prince George by mid-December.

The clients of Dean and Janna’s group fitness classes think of them as part of one big family and they have rallied to try to help the family financially so they can focus on Dean’s health without worrying about breaking their gym lease with the landlord. Kimberly Sexsmith, a dental hygienist who teaches a fitness class at the gym, created a GoFundMe page that within three days reached its goal of raising $25,000.

“I’m quite humbled by that, there’s so many people I have to reach out to, to thank them,” he said. “I wasn’t even going to tell anybody. I’m the kind of guy, I would just battle it and be done with it. But we had to tell The Movement community because people were asking for more workouts.”

Sexsmith says there’s been a void in her life since the gym shut down again. Dean and Janna and their inclusive approach to running their business rekindled her passion for own fitness activities and they continue to spread that enthusiasm and supportive nature to everybody whose lives they touch.

“They are perfect parents, they’re raising their children with such great values and they do everything with them,” said Sexsmith. “He’s an incredible human being and an incredible dad and we all love him. He’s already come back from lung cancer, never smoked a day in his life and he’s missing half his right lung and third of his diaphragm and guy is in beautiful shape. To beat cancer once and get kicked in the ass again, it’s heartbreaking.”

She said the dental community and local realtors have showed their generosity and have jumped on board the fundraising effort to help the Colemans forget about having enough to pay the bills for a few months.

“They’re both independent business owners and right now the gym is being crushed,” said Sexsmith. “So the only thing people can help them with is money. Give them some money so that they’re not just frantic about him having to recover immediately and get back out and work. It just speaks to that family; they’re an incredible family.”

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