How we missed signs of my wife’s cancer until it was too late

9-11-15 Pam Solseng ovarian cancer blog photo with family

Sometimes the smallest differences mean everything. During a day my wife had sent the kids to school, finished a shift at the VA, and found a half hour to  mow the lawn before her sisters would arrive to celebrate earning her nursing degree, we learned how significant small changes can be.

On that day, Pam’s shortness of breath was the latest ‘little thing’ that had become persistent and worsening. She had become more and more accustomed to constant hunger and reduced capacity to eat a full meal. She blamed her gradual weight loss on that and had sought care for general bowel discomfort without relief.

Our visits and her intuition that something was amiss grew more and more serious over the months that led to that day in May of 2006. So after her yard work she called as she drove across town to see her primary care doctor, who she’d coaxed to see her yet again in search of a solution.

Pam, a registered nurse, at the Fargo VA clinic in 2007

I was surprised to see Pam’s number calling me back so quickly. It was because she needed a ride to the CT scan they ordered, then later to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo to review the results. By 4 o’clock that afternoon she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The shortness of breath subsided when a liter of fluid was removed from her lungs that afternoon. And instead of hanging by the pool with her family the night before her graduation ceremony, she spent her first night in the hospital as a cancer patient.

Our experience with the onset of ovarian cancer was not atypical. Pam’s fatal condition had been overlooked by us, a nurse and a pharmacist, as well as several specialists, her fellow nursing students and the critical care nurses she worked with. What quickly became reality had eluded us until an advanced stage, where survival rates drop significantly. But the new reality also gave new purpose. On day one she donated blood to a clinical trial in search of a screening tool. She later developed a presentation on awareness, served as chairperson for Roger Maris 61 for 61, a walk supporting cancer awareness, and lived as an example of courage until the day after she turned 40. Her legacy survives and in September we celebrate it especially.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Early detection and prevention are key to surviving ovarian cancer. Some symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate frequently and urgently
  • Weight loss

Here’s more information about ovarian cancer from the Mayo Clinic.

Brent Solseng is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employee. Since his wife’s death from ovarian cancer in 2009, Brent has become an advocate for early detection of ovarian cancer and gives presentations to women’s groups about the disease.

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Attend October 13 worksite wellness summit in Fargo

9-21-15 worksite wellness summit preview blog

Imagine you and your co-workers feeling better … and getting more done each day.

Those are just two of the many proven benefits of a worksite wellness program.

Organizations — both small and large — are taking advantage of free worksite wellness materials from BCBSND and starting some form of wellness program in their organizations. Some are bare bones programs. Others are more robust.  But all worksite wellness programs make an impact.

On October 13, wellness enthusiasts will gather in Fargo to gain inspiration and some new ideas.  If that sounds like you, consider joining us.

Learn more about the North Dakota Worksite Wellness Summit.

Check out some videos below that explain more about the North Dakota Worksite Wellness Summit and how the summit can help you and your company create a successful worksite wellness program.


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Medicare supplement plan enrollment available

9-21-15 SEP blog photo ORIGINAL

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) has opened up a special enrollment period for Medicare Supplement Plans. If you’re looking for options, BCBSND has several for you to consider.

Now through December 31, 2015, BCBSND Medicare Supplement Plans require little to no underwriting. This means that even if you’ve been denied in the past, you’ll likely qualify for a policy now.

A Medicare Supplement Plan from BCBSND offers many advantages:

  • The wide range of options available through BCBSND ensures we can work together to find a plan that fits your needs.
  • BCBSND is widely accepted in the state of North Dakota, throughout the United States and in 200 countries worldwide.
  • BCBSND has a prompt, streamlined claim service that requires minimal paperwork for our members.
  • BCBSND has nine offices throughout the state of North Dakota to assist and answer member questions.
  • All BCBSND Medicare Supplement Plans come with the SilverSneakers fitness program at no additional cost. SilverSneakers is an exercise program designed to help keep older adults active and healthy.

Take a look at our Medicare Supplement Plans today to learn more or, contact one of our consultants at (800) 280-BLUE (2583).

Rhonda Ubben is marketing communications manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Delivering new shoes to schools

group photo CROPPED

Some of our employees volunteered this week to sort and pack up boxes of new running shoes that will be donated to deserving kids in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The shoes started being distributed to elementary schools in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead this week as part of the Shoes for Kids program. Our company helps provide matching funds to support the program that is also funded by Fargo Marathon registration fees, additional matching funds from Discovery Benefits and the Dakota Medical Foundation, and individual donations.

shoes being packed
Our employees helped sort and pack 1,200 pairs of new Nike Pegasus running shoes for kids this week. The shoes will be delivered to schools, which will share them with deserving students.

This school year 1,200 new Nike Pegasus youth running shoes are being distributed to schools in the Fargo area. The schools give the shoes to deserving students, often children in financial need who lack appropriate running shoes.

This is the fourth year in a row that the program will provide 1,000 or more shoes to local schools.

We are proud to participate in the Shoes for Kids program. We support efforts like this program that help children in North Dakota become more physically active, and remove barriers to living healthy lifestyles.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Farmer’s market guide

9-3-15 farmer's market BLOG CROP

Fall is a great time to find healthy food that is in season.

But you don’t have to go to the grocery store to find fresh produce this time of year.

A multitude of farmer’s markets offer the opportunity to find healthy locally-sourced vegetables and fruits. Farmer’s markets not only allow you the chance to support local farmers, but you can also often score fresher produce straight from the farm. In addition, food at local farmer’s markets can contain fewer chemicals and preservatives than those you might find at the neighborhood grocery store.

Farmer’s markets allow you to purchase produce straight from the farm.

North Dakota offers many farmer’s markets for residents to check out. Most farmer’s markets run from June or July through September or October.

While many people associate farmer’s markets with larger metropolitan areas such as downtown Fargo or Bismarck, North Dakota boasts farmer’s markets in big cities and small towns alike.

Here is a statewide list of farmer’s markets in North Dakota, courtesy of the North Dakota Farmers Market & Growers Association. Here is another list of farmer’s markets in the state from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

Shoppers in larger cities often have a number of farmer’s markets to choose from. Here is a look at some local farmer’s markets and a farmer’s market shopping guide from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Talk with your primary care provider about preventive screenings

talk to doc

Colonoscopy?  Tetanus shot? Mammogram?

With changes to health guidelines, it can be difficult to know if and when you need a preventive screening or vaccine. That’s where having a relationship with a primary care doctor can help.

“The health care system is pretty complex and if you have a relationship with a primary care doctor it enhances your care and helps to give you access to the care treatment you need,” says Dr. Julie Blehm, a primary care physician.

Your primary health care provider stays abreast of current guidelines. They can recommend and order appropriate screening or vaccine, as well as decide when you need additional testing. What’s more, they can treat most chronic disease and decide when you need see a specialist.

Having someone to coordinate your care is important. For example, if you have chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, your primary health care provider can manage your care and if necessary coordinate care with other specialists. They will make sure you— as a patient—understand what is being done and recommended.

Your annual exam is a good time to discuss your health care needs, concerns, goals and fears with your primary care provider. Based on your age, family history and risk factors, they may recommend the following preventive screenings:

  • Mammogram
  • Pap smear
  • Colonoscopy
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • Lung cancer
  • Blood glucose

If you have questions about which screenings are covered, please contact Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota at 1-800-342-4718.

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.


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Insurance networks explained

Network Hospital graphicHealth insurance can be confusing. We’re here to help.

What is a network?

A NETWORK  is a group of doctors or medical facilities that provide services to a health insurance company’s members at a discounted rate.

As the largest health insurance company in the state, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota is able to negotiate favorable rates for its members with participating health care facilities.

If you see a doctor who is in your plan’s network, you will save money. You may pay higher out of pocket costs if you see a doctor who is not in your network, or who is not a participating provider.

Networks vary depending upon your insurance plan. Some networks require members to select a group of health care facilities to seek care.

Here is a description of how health insurance works.

Visit to find which doctors in your area are part of your network. Here are some tips to help you select a doctor for you and your family.

Please call the phone number on the back of your ID card if you have any questions.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Take time to enjoy being physically active

Be physically activeIt’s easy to be so busy with work and family responsibilities that you forget what it was like to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing like a 10-year-old at recess.

Regardless of your age, physical activity is important to your health. Exercise benefits kick in the moment you begin moving — and the benefits continue as long as you do. Experts recommend doing cardio exercise at least three times a week and resistance or weight training two times each week.

You can feel the benefits of exercise right away as you breathe faster and deeper, delivering extra oxygen to your muscles. Endorphins trigger a higher level of alertness. Within one hour, proteins bolster your immune system while you keep burning calories. Over time, you’ll reduce your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and several cancers, plus you’ll increase your potential to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

What’s more, regular exercise slows the aging process.

Exercise and periodic “brain breaks” give adults physical and mental benefits that are similar to what they gained from recess as kids. “Brain breaks” can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise fights obesity, which is common, serious and costly:

  • More than one-third of U.S. adults are categorized as obese according to their Body Mass Index, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
  • Medical costs for people who are obese tend to be higher than those of normal weight.

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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Learn about health reform at August employer workshops

8-6-2015 ACA workshops graphic

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is complex, affecting employers and the benefits they offer to their employees. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) wants to provide information to employers to help them better understand how the ACA affects them and to plan their 2016 strategy.

BCBSND will host a series of public forums for employer groups in August throughout the state. Information presented will be geared more for employers with 50 or more FTE employees, and information may not be as relevant for groups of all sizes.

You can register today at

The workshops will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • ACA 101: The ACA’s complexities affect insurance, and ultimately, employee compensation. Understanding individual and employer incentives created by the ACA allows employers to more fully understand market dynamics.
  • Definition of a small group and timing: Certain employer groups currently considered “large” for rating purposes will soon be re-defined as small. The timing varies based on insurance anniversaries, when the group’s size was last evaluated and how companies are structured. Understanding how this change affects group renewals and quotes will help the employer prepare and avoid significant disruption.
  • Large Employer reporting requirements: This will be a fairly thorough treatment of the data elements required, how BCBSND will partner with both fully insured and self-funded groups and takeaway tasks for employers to complete.
  • Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC): Self-funded groups have a reporting responsibility to report coverage information for those covered under your health plan.

We encourage you to attend a workshop near you.

  • Monday, Aug. 24, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Alerus Center, Grand Forks
  • Monday, Aug. 24, 2:30-5:30 p.m., Lake Region State College, Devils Lake
  • Tuesday, Aug. 25, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Holiday Inn Riverside, Minot
  • Wednesday, Aug. 26, 8:30-11:30 a.m.,  Grand Williston Hotel and Conference Center,  Williston
  • Thursday Aug. 27, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Ramada Inn, Dickinson
  • Thursday, Aug 27, 2:30-5:30 p.m. Ramkota Inn, Bismarck
  • Friday, Aug 28, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Quality Inn, Jamestown
  • Monday, Aug. 31, 1-4 p.m., Holiday Inn, Fargo

Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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When to go to the ER or doctor’s office

You’re not feeling well and have decided to seek medical attention. But where you should go? Should you go to the local hospital’s emergency room, visit your personal doctor, or go to an urgent care center?

The answer depends on your specific situation. It’s important to go to the right medical setting so you can get the best type of care for your medical needs.

Here are some tips to help you decide where to go when you require medical care.

If you think it is a life-threatening emergency, immediately go to the ER or call 911. Do not delay.

Emergency rooms are designed to handle these urgent medical situations.

4-9-15 KnowWhereToGo-ER TWITTER

Some examples of emergency situations include:

  • Heart attack
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe burns
  • Head injury
  • Major injuries or severe bleeding

If it is not an emergency, try visiting your doctor or an urgent care center. That way you will avoid a long wait, and will likely avoid more expensive medical bills. It’s important to save the hospital emergency room for true emergencies. Visiting the emergency room for a common illness or minor injury delays care for someone who is experiencing a true emergency and drives up the cost of health care.

If you are feeling sick, but it’s not an emergency, you should visit your primary care doctor first. Your doctor is familiar with you and your medical history. Your doctor will be able to help diagnose your condition, and will let you know if you need to seek additional care.

4-9-15 KnowWhereToGo-PCP TWITTER

Some examples of generally non-emergency situations:

  • Sore throat
  • Ankle sprain
  • Rash
  • Immunization
  • Sports physical
  • Chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes

If you feel sick or have an injury that doesn’t require immediate emergency treatment, but you can’t wait to visit your doctor, you may want to consider visit an urgent care center or walk-in clinic. Many cities have urgent care centers that help patients in these types of situations.

KnowWhereToGo-UrgentCare TWITTER

Urgent care centers are often open later at night than general doctor’s office hours, and visiting an urgent care center often leads to shorter waits and less expensive out-of-pocket medical expenses than visiting the ER. You should check to make sure the urgent care center is part of your plan’s insurance network, however.

Some examples of potential reasons to visit urgent care include:

  • Spiking high fever
  • Painful possible ear infection
  • Broken wrist
  • Injury requiring stitches
  • Painful urination

These are just some general suggestions. Please consult a medical professional to help diagnose your condition and the necessary medical care you should seek.

Please call the phone number listed on the back of your Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota ID card for questions about your insurance coverage.

Ryan Schuster is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

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