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‘Honored’ to be co-chair, Koning says

June 25, 2012

SOME OF THE SUPPORT ... Lou Koning holds a card he received from several close friends and a picture from Bellmont girls’ basketball players whom he used to coach. Koning said the support he has received during his fight with cancer has been “unbelievable.” (Photo by Kristin Baron)

    Lewis "Lou" W. Koning of Decatur was one of two honorary co-chairs chosen by the Adams County Relay for Life Committee to walk the first lap at this year's event, held Saturday and Sunday at Adams Central's football stadium.
    Koning, 64, a retired high school teacher and coach after a combined total of 38 years (32 years at Bellmont High School), considers himself to be a "pretty private guy." However, he said he is "honored" to be selected as one of the Relay honorary co-chairs and is willing to share his cancer story with the community because "if anything I've been through can help someone else; if I can help someone in any way, that would make me feel very proud."
    Koning was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), or cancer of the blood, in May of 2006. He recalled coming down with cold/flu-like symptoms while vacationing in Florida over spring break that year. He felt better after seeing a doctor but was still not feeling 100 percent when he returned home. After some encouragement from his daughter, Kortney, he saw another doctor who did a biopsy and found the cancer.
    Koning was then referred to Dr. Steven N. Rhinehart, an oncologist at Ft. Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology who comes to the Paul and Kathryn Strickler Cancer Institute in Decatur once a week. Rhinehart said the type of cancer from which Koning suffered could possibly lie dormant in his system forever and never cause any further problems. The doctor suggested that Koning have his blood drawn every six months to keep an eye on it.
    In the fall of 2010, Koning began having abdominal pain. Doctors found he had an enlarged spleen and that the cancer was no longer dormant. The plan was to treat the cancer aggressively with a common drug for CLL. Koning had a negative reaction to the first treatment, and two subsequent treatments also failed.
    At that point, Koning recalled Rhinehart telling him, "I can't treat you anymore. There's nothing I can do." Koning said he is one of just five percent of people for whom the common CLL treatment does not work.
    Koning was then referred to Dr. John C. Byrd, director of the division of hematology and a CLL specialist at The James Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State University. Byrd recommended an experimental treatment plan drug known as Ibrutinib, which is specifically for older patients with CLL.
    The experimental treatment plan thus far has been effective, and Koning said he is doing well. After traveling nearly two and a half hours to The James Center three times a month, Koning is now making the trip just once a month.
    "I'm hoping I can get down to going once every three months," he said. "It's been long, but if it's working, that's all that matters. Being retired, I have plenty of time." Koning just recently made his 37th trip to the facility.
    While dealing with CLL, Koning was also treated for Basal Cell Carcinoma skin cancer in 2006, in 2009 and again last month. Each time, he had Mohs Micrographic surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. Basal Cell Carcinoma is one of the two most common types of skin cancer and is usually due to overexposure to sunlight. However, Koning said his doctors believe that, in his case, it may be partially caused by the CLL.
    Asked how he feels about having surgery on his face, Koning laughed, "I'm almost 65. Who cares what I look like? It is what it is and you deal with it. That's the thing about cancer and everything else. You've got to deal with it. You do what the doctors tell you and hopefully you will get better so you can live a little longer."
    Koning has tried to keep a positive attitude throughout his years of dealing with cancer. "I'm not always positive. I have those days when I cry and I think, but sitting in a chair all day and not doing anything isn't going to help me."
    He stays active by working out at the gym four days a week and playing golf with friends Monday through Friday. "Playing golf and working out may not help, but it can't hurt," he said. "I've been involved in athletics all my life — it's all about trying to be positive, so I think that's helped. You've got to be positive. By being positive there's hope."
   

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     For years, Lou Koning and his wife, Vicky, both cancer survivors, have been involved in raising money for cancer organizations such as The V Foundation for Cancer Research and for community organizations including Adams Memorial Hospital's oncology unit and the Paul and Kathryn Strickler Cancer Institute, Adams County Relay for Life and individuals who are fighting cancer.
    Koning and Tory Fuelling started the "Shoot Down Cancer" free-throw fundraising event in 2003 when they were head coaches of the BHS girls' varsity basketball team. The event has raised more than $71,000.
    The event was taken over by the current coach, Andy Heim, this past season.

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