Dan Kuntz received the call that changed his life at 12:15 p.m. Sept. 13, 2012, and he’s prepared to share his cancer journey to help others find a little hope.
Kuntz will be recognized as an honorary survivor at this Friday’s Isanti County Relay for Life event at Spectacular Events in Isanti. He lives with wife, Karin, in St. Joseph, Minnesota, and he’s looking forward to reuniting with friends and family who watched him graduate from Cambridge High School in 1987.
Diagnosed with stage 4B thymus gland cancer on that September day, Kuntz has a type of cancer that is uncommon and inoperable. After his official diagnosis, his initial response was he didn’t need help. Over time, however, he grew to accept the switch from giver to receiver in terms of the support, kindness and generosity that he and his family typically offer to others.
“The experience was very humbling,” he said. “It felt different to go from giving to receiving. My pastor, from a biblical standpoint, said we are all here to serve each other and the Lord. In treatment, I learned it’s your time to be the receiver of these gifts from your family and church family. This turns you on end when you realize this. It made it easier to ask for help, from yard work to the financial side.”
In spring 2012, Kuntz was coming home from his son’s last swimming meet at nationals in Illinois. When he arrived back home, he wasn’t feeling right and described his symptoms to his doctor in St. Cloud. He eventually tested positive for Lyme disease, but the antibiotics and medicine were not improving his condition, which included pain in his joints. He couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning.
Still, he developed a cough with breathing problems, and the doctor thought it was due to a weakness from the other treatments. He tried different medications and saw a pulmonologist. His joints were still affected, so he went to a rheumatologist and discussed arthritis pain. He received a chest X-ray at the University of Minnesota and a CT scan was scheduled.
While Kuntz kept persistent in following doctors’ orders to find an explanation of his condition, his wife tried to be as supportive as possible.
“She was internalizing and not saying anything,” he recalled. “She tried to be the rock and was supportive, but it was a struggle for her.”
When the results of the CT scan came back, a growth was found in his chest near the lungs and heart. Doctors then ordered a CT biopsy to get a closer look at the mass.
The results of the biopsy came back 10 days later. But it was hardly the news he was expecting. Kuntz had cancer.
“I immediately closed my office door in St. Paul and broke down because you’re not thinking cancer,” he said of his initial reaction. “To get that as a phone call …”
Kuntz was careful how he broke the news to his wife and son and other members of his family. To this day, he appreciates the love and support he has received from everyone around him, he said.
When asked about his selection as honorary survivor at this year’s Relay, he thinks of his mother who got involved in a team with Cambridge Lutheran Church when his stepfather got cancer.
“In his treatment, we wanted to know ways we could help,” Kuntz said.
Through these efforts and the Cambridge Lutheran team, when Relay was looking for people in honoring, “they appreciated my mom and wondered if I would want to speak at the event,” he noted. “They asked me to talk about my path, my cancer journey.
“Then they asked if I’d like to be an honorary chair. I had no reservations, but I wanted to understand what my role was. What’s the purpose? They said we just want you to share your story,” he added.
Kuntz said people are often amazed about his openness of what he’s going through.
“It’s encouraging to them because others don’t talk or they shut down,” he said. “Not that they’ll learn anything, but to me, it’s more of the power to share our experiences because you don’t know if people will internalize it and apply it to situations in their life. It could be someone looking for a bright spot, and your experiences could be that bright spot.”
For now, doctors have been monitoring Kuntz’s condition through regular scanning to check on any new activity with the main mass between his lungs and heart. Though the tumor is not growing in size, he said, the big concern is it could grow inward and block the main arteries that lead to his heart.
Yet there’s no questioning the heart from within.
“My mindset now is there’s nothing more important than family,” Kuntz said. “When I think of family, it’s not only blood family, but my Scouting family, church family and work family. Families are the relationship you build over your life. Think about what matters.”