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Nephew, aunt both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Nephew, aunt both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

They are related by marriage and now share a common diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

She grew up in a family of eight children. Faith, family, and music were pillars for Glenda Smith’s early life. That continues today.

Smith didn’t know it at the time, but those same pillars left their mark on her nephew, Jim Strietelmeier. When Smith married Strietelmeier’s uncle they were among the first to introduce their nephew to Christianity.

Strietelmeier grew up in Indianapolis. His Aunt Glenda and Uncle Herbert, who they affectionately call, “Uncle Junior,” live in North Salem.

“When we’d go to visit they’d take me and my twin sister to church occasionally. They showed us what Christianity means lived out. My uncle was a pastor. My aunt was a hairdresser and was always kind and generous and a good example of faithfulness,” said Strietelmeier.

Smith grew up singing in church. When she met Herbert and learned he played the drums, she knew they had music in common. They had their first date at Skateland roller rink, and married 51 years ago. Over the course of their lives, they have performed with two bands – one gospel and one rock and roll. Herbert continued with the drums, Glenda was on tambourine and vocals. A highlight was sharing the stage at the former Market Square Arena with the southern rock band, Alabama.

Later in life, they enjoyed activities with their children – two girls and a boy – and nine grandchildren.

For most of her life, Smith, 71, has enjoyed great health. But in April, things took a turn and she ended up in ER. Testing showed a mass and she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She didn’t know it at the time, but her nephew was facing the same diagnosis.

It was February when Strietelmeier was treated for what was thought to be gallbladder. Cancer cells were detected during a bile duct procedure.

Like his aunt, Strietelmeier, 56, had also enjoyed good health. He met his wife Debbie through Wheeler Mission Ministries. Her dad was a pastor. She was 15 and Jim was 17.

“I learned early on that poverty was where God called me to minister,” said Strietelmeier. He married Debbie 34 years ago and studied International Ministries and American Intercultural Ministries at Moody Bible Institute. They pursued a life of ministry together. In 1990, they served in South Africa and 25 years ago started a near eastside ministry called, “Neighborhood Fellowship.” The outreach, located in an Old German Reform Church is known for inner city ministry. Among the programs offered are a Neighborhood Academy, and the Indiana University Student Outreach Clinic. The student-run clinic provides primary care-based medical, dental, social and legal services to uninsured and underserved Indianapolis residents. The Strietelmeiers are also parents to eight children, including four they adopted through their ministry.

“I don’t go by ‘Reverend,’ or ‘Pastor.’ I’m just “Jim,” says Strietelmeier. “I learned through my aunt that we are called to serve and that’s what we do.”

When he came to IU Health as a patient, Strietelmeier learned what it was like to be on the other side of serving. In the care of IU Health Dr. C. Max Schmidt he underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy. Also known as a “Whipple” procedure, the complex operation is done to remove the head of the pancreas, first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder, and the bile duct. He then started chemotherapy in the care of IU Health oncologist Dr. Paul Helft.

“Love your neighbor comes with a health care story – they are doing what is commanded,” said Strietelmeier, of his IU Health care team. During his Whipple procedure he recognized one of the students from the outreach clinic working with Dr. Schmidt. “Then when Dr. Schmidt asked who my oncologist was, he told me that Dr. Helft has an outstanding philosophy on cancer management. I knew I was in good hands. I loved the relational connection,” said Strietelmeier.

There were more connections to come.

His aunt was also in the care of Dr. Helft. She too, had surgery at IU Health and was a patient on the same floor as Strietelmeier.

“We went back and forth down the hall keeping in touch. You don’t want someone to go through something so awful but it was great that we were together. We were able to talk through it and pray together,” said Strietelmeier.

“When he started chemotherapy first, Jimmy called to tell me how it went and what days to expect more energy,” said Smith. In the weeks that followed, they both have felt stronger. Smith travels 40 miles for treatment every 14 days. After one recent treatment she attended two ball games, and an anniversary party and then went out for dinner. On his best days, Strietelmeier walks eight miles. Sometimes he walks from his home in St. Clair Place to Simon Cancer Center.

“Jimmy has been such an encourager through all of this,” said Smith. “He said it was meant to be that we go through this journey together and if it has to be then I’m glad he’s with me.”

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