Taking Illness in Stride
Steward Frazier, a UnitedHealthcare member, is no stranger to chronic health problems. But, the 75-year-old retired Methodist pastor takes these challenges in stride. Literally. Walking started out as a way to cope. But, it became a salvation that improved his health, strengthened his body and lifted his spirit.
Trials and tribulations
In 1986, a prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment side effects snowballed into a string of serious health problems for Frazier. After starting radiation treatment for the cancer, physical stress took its toll and caused problems with a valve in his heart, he says. Frazier needed open-heart surgery to correct it.
Except for seven weeks off for recovery, Frazier didn't slow down. He continued to work as a veterinary medical officer for the Food and Drug Administration. At the same time, he worked toward a degree from Wesleyan Theological Seminary.
Unfortunately, health problems continued to follow Frazier, despite his active lifestyle. Several years later, the cancer returned. Frazier developed terrible side effects from his treatment, so he asked his doctors to stop treatment and give his body a rest. But, it didn't end there. Shortly thereafter, he developed severe high blood pressure, which led to a stroke.
Frazier physically weathered all of these conditions. But, mentally and emotionally, he was exhausted. He became depressed and suicidal, feeling there was no hope.
Thankfully, Frazier had the strength to reach out for help. He'd relied on the UnitedHealthcare network medical team to assist with his physical illnesses. So, he turned to the network once again to find help for his mental health. "A person with a chronic medical condition needs a good medical team, not just one specialist," he says. "What helped me was having a medical team with my primary physician directing my medical care."
He was admitted to the hospital, where he was treated for depression. After a week, he was no longer suicidal and returned home. The depression, however, wasn't gone.
One day, his wife said she'd enrolled him in a six-week health and wellness workshop. She hoped it would help him cope with his depression. At first, Frazier saw his wife's concern as meddling. "I went to the workshop mad at her. 'How dare you tell me what to do?'" he says with a chuckle. "But, I had sense enough not to waste her $25."
Despite his initial resistance, the workshop proved to be a lifesaver. Frazier became interested in the walking and meditation classes offered there. He combined the two and achieved more peace than he'd known in a long time and, best of all, he began to walk daily.
Rising to the challenge
At about the time the workshop ended, Frazier's wife, a marathon runner, challenged him to walk with her in a 5K race. He took her challenge, trained daily for eight weeks and was able to finish the 5K about 3 miles.
Even before the race, Frazier noticed an overall improvement in his health. "My body got stronger, my mind was focused and my spirit was uplifted," he says. "Medication side effects and numbness in my feet from the stroke subsided, and I continued walking."
Frazier knows exercise and meditation aren't a cure for his health conditions. But, they help his outlook. "I'm back in treatment for prostate cancer. But, I'm not afraid," he says. "I'm also back in depression treatment."
In the face of his health challenges, there were many days Frazier wanted to give up. But, walking has helped him continue to move forward. "With a healthy mind and a healthy body, you can have a healthy spirit," he says. As a result, he's adopted a motto that reflects his determination: It is always too early to quit.