Dann P. Siems, 52, of Bemidji died Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 after an 18 month progression of brain cancer. He died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.
Dann was born June 7, 1958 in Fergus Falls. He attended K-12 in Battle Lake and spent the first 18 years of his life at his parents’ home on Otter Tail Lake.
He earned his undergraduate degree in Aquatic Biology at Bemidji State University in 1980 and was Program Director for Camp Fish in Walker for four years. He received his Masters Degree in Biology at BSU in 1986. From 1986-1988, he worked for the US Forest service; from 1988-89 he was Administrative Assistant at Walden University; from 1989-1995, he served as an Adjunct Professor at BSU. He completed two PhD dissertations and had completed research on a third one when he left academia in 2009. In 2010, he was employed with the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District.
Dann Siems, Bemidji State University biologist, wants people to understand two things about cancer:
For one thing, it’s not a single disease, but many. And, if they feel out of sorts or experience some change from their normal outlook,
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For Dann Siems, the headaches began in early summer 2009, They would bother him in the morning, but abate if he didn’t go back to bed. He also felt a sort of mental lethargy or lack of interest in things he usually enjoyed, such as gardening. That pattern went on for about six weeks, he said, until a weekend in August when he and his wife, Lenore, spent touring in a boat around Lake of the Woods. When he came home, the headache told him he had better have the problem checked out. As it happened, he had spent a couple of days going “25 miles in a boat with a tumor bouncing around in my head.”
He said as soon as he mentioned the headaches and the fact that they intensified if he lay down, the doctors immediately suspected a brain tumor. “That’s apparently a hallmark of brain tumors,” he said. He had a CT scan on a Monday, an MRI on Tuesday and was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforma, which is almost always lethal. He had surgery to remove the tumor three days later. Siems was treated successfully with radiation and general chemotherapy in 2003 for lymphoma of the right tonsil area. The theory is the lymphoma treatment is related to the brain tumor, which is in his right frontal brain area.
He is now among 3,000 patients enrolled in two clinical trials with the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health to try and understand the natural history of glioblastoma. Unlike lung cancer or breast cancer, glioblastoma seems to be completely random as far as ethnicity, heredity, gender or any other causal pattern. It is also tagged multiforma because it follows a range of symptoms from person to person.
He also is undergoing molecularly targeted chemotherapy with an experimental drug designed to block the tumor’s blood supply. And he will undergo a second surgery next week. “It’s an odd situation to be the recipient of a benefit,” Siems said of the gala and concert planned for Saturday, June 5, at Jammers. He said he hopes to be recovered enough from the surgery to attend the party. When Siems was undergoing treatment for lymphoma, Red Wing Shoes had a sale, and also bought a pair of marked-down, top-of-the-line boots.
“I thought, ‘This is stupid. Why am I buying lifetime boots?'” he said. But he has enjoyed them and used them in turning his woods on Lake Marquette into a park. “It really does shorten your time horizon,” he said of cancer.In 2003, their son, James, was just a toddler, and Siems wondered if he would see his child grow up.”Now, he’s in third grade and I think, ‘Will I see him graduate from Schoolcraft,'” he said .
Last week, he and James and four older male friends, a sort of “council of grandfathers,” took a canoe and camping trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He also planted about 50 baby pines and cedars Thursday.As a biologist, Siems said he finds his treatments and the studies he is involved with NCI in Bethesda, Md., are fascinating. They would be even more interesting, he said, if he weren’t so close to the subject – himself.
“That’s been the fun thing – I’m going out there as a participant,” he said. But he said, “he also feels the emotions of sadness, fear and anger a cancer diagnosis naturally engenders.” “The sadness part was immediate,” he said. “That’s an easier kind of catharsis because you feel that you can do something about it, even if it’s only sit there and cry.”
The fear, he said, isn’t fear of death because he also believes death is only the absence of experience. He said he also doesn’t fear pain because of the good quality of palliative care. But losing control or becoming comatose is a fear, he said.
Anger, he said, is more complicated. Siems professes to be an agnostic merging on atheism. “(The anger) almost makes me want to be a theist again so I could have a scape-God,” he said. Although a cure for cancer has been a scienfici goal for generations, he said that while some cancers can be cured, an overall cure will never happen because cancer is many diseases. Siems said anything scientists can do to get people past thinking that cancer is a single disease is worthwhile.
He was bom June 7, 1958, in Fergus Falls, and attended school K-12 in Battle Lake and spent the first 18 years of his life at his parents’ home on Otter Tail Lake.
He earned his undergraduate degree in aquatic biology at Bemidji State University in 1980, and was program director of Camp Fish on Walker for four years. Next he ALSO worked for the Minnesota DNR.
He received his masters degree in biology at BSU in 1986. From 1986 to 1988, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service, from 1988-1989, an administrative Assistant at Walden University, from 1989 to 1995, was a graduate assistant at the University of Minnesota.
In 1995, he also returned to BSU as an adjunct professor. He had completed two PhD dissertations and had completed research on a third one when he left academia in 2009.
In 2010 he was employed with Beltrami SWCD. He was also instrumental in the conception and organization of the Schoolcraft Learning Center charter school and was a leader in Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
He was committed to causes that had a common denominator: a tendency toward fairness. This rare talent made him highly regarded during his lifetime.
In 2009, Dann co-authored the book, “Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal and the Rise of Naturalism.”
On July 26, 1997, he married Lenore Preece in Bemidji. They have one son, James, age 9.
Among his passions were fishing and canoeing, especially in the Boundary Waters, KAXE Public Radio, theology, and evolution.
His dedication to environmental issues — from the perspective of an aquatic biologist, resulted in his receiving regional and state awards for his leadership, also including the prestigious 2010 Conservation Minnesota Leadership Award, and 2010 Keith Mooney Award for Exceptional Contributions to the Grace Lake Watershed Owners’ Association.
Dann is survived by his wife, Lenore; a son, James; his parents, Donn and Marlys Siems of Battle Lake; and a brother, Dirk of Battle Lake, and his friend, Karin Trosvik; a niece, Keshia (Trevor) Solem; nephews, Brendon and Brody Siems, Uncle Dave (Nadine) Siems of Fergus Falls, and their children; his mother-in-law, Norma Preece of Bemidji; a sister-in-law, Kathleen Preece, of Bemidji; a brother-in-law, Bruce Preece and also his family of Florida; and a sister-in-law, Cindi Robinson and family of Redwood Falls.
Preceding him in death were father-in-law, Judge James E. Preece; and grandparents, Ove and Ruth Anderson and Willliam and Frances Siems, all of Fergus Falls.
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Cheryl Broyles was diagnosed with the Glioblastoma Multiforme brain tumor in 2000. She has survived the GBM 13 years.
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