Aaron Brensel knew his abdomen just didn't feel right.
A doctor told him it was age. He was over 40 and he could expect to put weight on in his midsection.
But Aaron, a captain with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, was persistent.
“I just knew the feeling was different than that,” he said. “It wasn't just putting on the weight.”
Aaron went for a follow-up visit and insisted on an ultrasound. That's when doctors found a mass. A CT scan confirmed it.
A week after meeting with a “tumor team” of doctors at Nebraska Medicine, Aaron and his wife, Martha, learned the tumor was cancerous.
“It was scary. No doubt it was scary. You don't wish this upon anyone, but we're strong in our faith as well,” Aaron said. “In moments like this when you're told it wasn't anything you did, we don't know what caused it, you have to rely on God and let Jesus guide your path because you're here as a person, but you can only fight so much on your own.”
The tumor, which was a liposarcoma, is rare type of cancer that began as a “rogue” fat cell in Aaron's abdomen. Doctors determined the best course of action was 25 treatments of radiation prior to surgery.
“The treatment wasn't to shrink the tumor but to encapsulate it and allow for easier removal,” Aaron said.
Despite undergoing radiation five days a week for five weeks, Aaron continued going to work on daily basis.
“I think it ultimately helped him anxiety-wise,” Martha said. “You can't sit and focus on it especially because we had to wait for surgery. He had to wait six weeks after the last radiation treatment. You can't just sit here and think about it. You've got to keep going and keep living.”
A loss of appetite from the radiation and the tumor caused Aaron to lose about 25 pounds.
“The tumor was pressing on my stomach so even when I did eat, it wasn't a full meal,” he said.
On June 20, Aaron and Martha were fully prepared for the surgery, which was expected to be long and tedious, lasting about 12 hours.
Doctors believed the large tumor was firmly attached to his back muscles. They prepared Aaron and Martha for a worst case scenario, which meant removal of his right kidney, colon, gallbladder, part of his liver, possible resection of his bowels and removing some of his back muscles.
Shortly after Aaron was taken back for surgery, the doctors told Martha they expected the surgery to be even longer.
But 4 1/2 hours later, the surgery was done.
“Why?” Martha asked. “I was expecting to be sitting there until 9 o'clock at night.”
The radiation had done its job, they explained.
“The only thing they had to take out of all that was my right kidney and the tumor,” Aaron said.
The tumor weighed 26 pounds — essentially the same size as the couple's youngest son, Griffin, who is 14 months old. The couple also have two older sons, Brayden, 9, and Jack, 5.
Though he is still awaiting the pathology results of the tumor, Aaron is now cancer free. At this time, he doesn't need to undergo chemotherapy.
“We'll take it,” he said. “Even if I ultimately end up having to do chemo, it's still amazing.”
Throughout his diagnosis and treatment, members of the sheriff's office have continually provided the Brensel family with support.
“It truly is a family,” Aaron said. “When one of us goes down with something, everyone else lends a hand of support.”
“When you have a law enforcement family, you never do anything alone,” added Martha, who works part-time as a dispatcher for the sheriff's office. “You don't have a baby alone, you don't fight cancer alone.”
The couple's church — Church of Christ in Blair — have also lent their support, providing meals when needed.
“Our pastor was with us all day (of the surgery),” Martha said.
Aaron is expected to be off work for eight to 12 weeks.
“I'm hoping for sooner,” he said.
The Washington County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 36 is planning a “Celebration of Survival” fundraiser to help the Brensel family from 3 to 8 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Blair American Legion, 103 S. 12th St., Blair.
The fundraiser will include a spaghetti feed fundraiser will include door prizes, a silent auction and 50/50 raffles.
“We're happy for all the support,” Aaron said. “We appreciate it.”