Aviation Executive Beats Colon Cancer

Once over the initial shock of his cancer diagnosis, Mark Bremer decided he’d face the situation with a goal to find something positive about every day.

Once over the initial shock of his cancer diagnosis, Mark Bremer decided he’d face the situation with a goal to find something positive about every day.

| There were lots of questions going through Mark Bremer’s mind on the day he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in late 2017: Is it confined to one location? What stage is it? How far has it spread?

It was an overwhelming and dark day. But once over the initial shock, Bremer decided he’d face the situation with a goal to find something positive about every day.

“I deemed my journey as ‘Save my Butt in 2018’ pun fully intended,” he said.

Bremer is the vice president of manufacturing operations at Dassault Falcon Jet. He’s detail-oriented and prefers to use data when making decisions. He composed a spreadsheet filled with information he’d gathered from six different hospitals in and around Arkansas, including MD Anderson and Johns Hopkins.

“I met with doctors from each of the hospitals and asked all the questions I had listed on my spreadsheet,” Bremer said. “After crunching the data, I decided UAMS was the best option for me.”

Bremer says the reputation of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, its physicians and their drive for intentional teamwork through multi-disciplinary consultations and treatment were some of the factors driving his decision to choose UAMS.

Mark Bremer talks with colorectal surgeon Jonathan Laryea, M.D. in a UAMS clinic.

Mark Bremer talks with colorectal surgeon Jonathan Laryea, M.D. in a UAMS clinic.

Each cancer patient’s case is discussed weekly by a multi-disciplinary team that includes surgical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, interventional radiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurses and social workers. The health care professionals make sure they have the optimum plan mapped out for each individual.

Jonathan Laryea, M.D. was his surgeon. Like all the surgeons who perform colon and rectal surgery at UAMS, Laryea is board certified in colon and rectal surgery — meaning in addition to general surgery, he has had additional training specifically in colon and rectal cancer and other diseases that affect the large intestine.

Though the colon and rectum are generally considered one continuous organ, (the rectum is the last few inches of the large intestine) there is a difference between treatment for colon cancer and rectal cancer, Laryea says.

“The majority of patients with colon or rectal cancers have no symptoms,” said Laryea. “For the patients who do, those

grandaughter, stands next to his wife Claudia, their son-in-law Dakota and daughter Bailey.

Bremer holding his grandaughter, stands next to his wife Claudia, their son-in-law Dakota and daughter Bailey.

symptoms are normally pain, changes of bowel habits or bleeding.”

Bremer’s treatment plan included chemotherapy and radiation that would help shrink the tumor, then surgery to remove the mass, followed by more chemotherapy.

“I was a bit naive going into this,” he said. “You hear about other people’s stories, but when you face it yourself, it’s different. I didn’t realize there were hundreds of different types of chemotherapy, and different ways to administer. Two people can have the same disease, but the treatment could differ. I thought I’d be able to handle it with little or no side effects, but I ended up with all of them.”

Bremer recounts one particularly dark day he was driving down the freeway and became nauseous. He hit a curb and soiled his clothes by becoming sick.

“It was one of the worse days of my life,” he said.

Mark Bremer enjoys Christmas light displays with his family in Hot Springs.

Mark Bremer enjoys Christmas light displays with his family in Hot Springs.

The positivity that day came from the compassion he experienced from nurses once he arrived at UAMS.

“I could tell they truly cared about me. Since I completed my treatment, I go back to some of the areas with ice cream treats. I can tell by their faces that they are genuinely happy about my wellness.”

Bremer believes he’s come through his cancer journey a better person. He feels more compassion for those around him in every aspect of his life. Before his cancer diagnosis, Bremer was a friend and advocate for the Cancer Institute and attended many of the annual Galas for Life fundraisers.

“I knew people who have had cancer, but I really didn’t understand what it means to go through it and what it meant for their families,” he said. “With this greater understanding, I’ve become a better leader, a better friend, husband, father and Christian.

My faith is stronger today than it ever has been.”

Claudia Bremer was a constant and reliable champion for her husband along with their adult children, Austin and Bailey.

“They were key cornerstones through this journey, supportive albeit scared at times. They really helped me to find positives,” Bremer said.

And though she doesn’t yet realize it, Blakely Josephine, was a light that drove away many of her “Pa Pa’s” dark days.

“She’s the joy of my life.”

When he was in remission, Bremer traveled to a mountaintop to thank God.

When he was in remission, Bremer traveled to a mountaintop to thank God.

Now in remission, Bremer’s mission “Save My Butt in 2018” is complete. He decided in the beginning that he’d mark the occasion by 1) going to a mountain to thank God and 2) ride his motorcycle to the arctic circle, an 11,000-mile round trip. He’s traveled to the mountain already. He plans to ride to the arctic circle in a few months.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cancer diagnosis for both men and women in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. It’s also preventable with regular screenings and curable when detected early. Last year, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended age to begin screening from age 50 to age 45. If a person has family history, their screening should begin 10 years before the age of the youngest person in their family was diagnosed.