On April 5, their dreams came true.
After 3½ years of trying to have children, Doug Kollasch, product manager at the Algona, IA, Hy-Vee, and his wife, Teresa, were told that twins, a boy and a girl, were on the way.
“I knew she would make such a great mom, that’s why we kept trying,” Doug says.
The couple spent the drive home from the doctor’s office happily calling relatives to spread the news. Teresa’s sister brought over used toys and outfits. Doug and Teresa picked out names painted the babies’ room. The cribs were in place and the changing table was ready for its first dirty diaper in November.
“We tried for so many years and Doug was right there with me for everything,” Teresa says.
By the time Doug and Teresa headed back to the doctor at the end of July for an ultrasound, Carter weighed a little over 1 pound; Lilly checked in at 1 pound 8 ounces. Two healthy babies, one grateful couple, who only 10 days earlier found out the toughest challenge that lay ahead was not raising twins, but facing down cancer.
It was a feeling of light-headedness and tingling in his hands that forced Doug to go the doctor. After a month of doctor’s visits, tests and speculation, he received the bad news: Doug had a stage-three brain tumor.
On July 30, the fight began—30 days of radiation with simultaneous chemotherapy—and treatments that will stretch six months to a year.
Teresa, an industrial engineer at Hormel Foods and a North Dakota native, moved to Algona in 2005. She met Doug at a local Jaycees meeting in 2006 after a co-worker convinced her to go out and meet new people.
She quickly learned that the most important things in Doug’s life were his 14-year-old son, Dustin, and his community. He volunteers with Knights of Columbus, overseeing membership for 39 councils in Iowa. He is an active member of St. Cecilia’s church and an officer for a number of other community organizations. Teresa, like many people in Algona, couldn’t help liking him.
“I knew I wanted to at least be his friend when I first met him, and I was fortunate enough to fall in love,” she says. “He’s a go-getter. Every time he talked about what he was doing, it was something different. He’s such a fun, positive person to be around.”
His boss, Bob Teeselink, has known Doug for 10 years. They went to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota last year and he considers Doug a “go-to-guy,” whose attitude toward life is contagious.
“If anybody needs help, Doug is the first one there,” Teeselink says. “He’s always the first one to volunteer to help and he’s just involved in everything.”
Everything included visiting his friend, Bev, at the Mayo Clinic shortly after his own diagnosis. Bev had a hole in her esophagus. Doctors weren’t sure when she would be released. After a short visit, Doug left Bev his Knights of Columbus traveling crucifix and some healing water from the Sacred Grotto in Lourdes, France.
“He’s always helping others,” Teresa says. “He very rarely takes time for himself.”
Immediate surgery isn’t an option for Doug. The risk is too high. Raising twins would be hard enough for two people, he says, let alone when one is half-paralyzed.
So the plan is to let the chemotherapy and radiation shrink the tumor enough to remove it.
For now, both Teresa and Doug plan to keep their full-time jobs. That means Doug will have to squeeze in a three-hour round trip to Albert Lea, MN, five days a week for the next month for radiation, and Teresa will continue traveling to her doctor’s appointments in Mason City.
Friends, family members and folks in the community have already stepped in to help. The Knights of Columbus has drawn up a ride schedule so that Teresa doesn’t have to make the trip to Albert Lea every day. In September, Hy-Vee will host a hamburger and pork feed in the parking lot to raise money for the couple’s medical bills. At a recent Kollasch family reunion, Doug’s niece and nephew, who play the piano, cello and violin professionally, played an impromptu concert and raised $500.
Meanwhile, the couple copes as best they can.
“I research until I can’t take any more, and then I cry a lot,” Teresa says. “I read good stories from the conventional medical world and then I find information from alternative medicines, but those two worlds don’t combine. It’s very frustrating and scary, because you want to find that place where you know you did everything you could and put the rest in God’s hands.”
Doug says he isn’t scared. He nonchalantly mentions being fitted for the mask that will protect his face from radiation. He continues to live his life on the assumption he will see his son and twin babies grow up. Part of him is actually looking forward to the trips to Albert Lea for treatments with his fellow Knights of Columbus members.
“It’s kind of neat, I can visit with different people,” he says. “I appreciate them donating their time.”
Shortly after Doug visited his friend in the hospital, her daughter applied the healing water her throat in the shape of the sign of the cross. Later that afternoon, the doctors ran some tests, said her throat was fine and she went home the next day—without a feeding tube.
“Now that is a healing miracle,” Doug says. “We have been using the same healing water on my head every night and praying for a miracle for me.”