Kim Durst (left) hugs Vera Kenyon (right) after Kenyon presents her with a little pink bird of hope.

Unexpected blessings

Cancer survivor Lora Koch shares her story at Relay for Life celebration

When Lora Koch was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she was unsure where her journey would lead. What she didn’t expect were all the blessings she encountered along the way in the form of family, love and God. Koch shared this experience and her optimism toward life at the Relay for Life Survivor and Caregiver Celebration at Sneakers Cafe on April 18. 

“Last Saturday morning, it was about 30 degrees, and as I’m looking out the window, I notice on the lake, there are some white pelicans,” Koch began. “The last time I saw white pelicans, they were in Florida, so I’m sure they were floating down the lake thinking, ‘what the heck is going on?’

“Well breast cancer can hit you like that too,” she continued. “You’re floating along through life, and suddenly, life just isn’t the same at all, like a cold, icy blast.” 

Koch was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017, in the midst of moving her elderly mother into a long-term care facility and preparing for the high school graduation of her youngest daughter. 

“My diagnosis did not come at a good time,” she explained. 

Koch had received a callback on a mammogram, but because she’d had many repeat mammograms in the past, she didn’t think much of it at the time. 

A routine mammogram in the summer of 2016 showed something suspicious on the left side. The mammogram in February of 2017 was a callback on the left side, which was clear, but doctors discovered something new on the right side.

“I was very fortunate to catch my breast cancer very early,” said Koch. “I was really glad I’d paid attention and actually gone ahead and done the followup as they had suggested.” 

With suspicious areas on both sides, she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. 

“The really interesting part of this journey is the unexpected blessings that popped up along the way,” said Koch. “While I would never wish cancer on myself or on anyone else, it did change me in a very positive way, and I have many reasons to be very thankful.” 

These blessings included support from wonderful medical providers, care and concern from family members and a strengthened trust in God.

“As I think about those white pelicans, who I’m sure are lamenting their visit to very cold and snowy Iowa, we know that the pelicans have better days ahead because eventually I think we’re going to have sun and warm weather,” said Koch. “We just need to hold on a little longer, and I plan to do the same and count my blessings along the way.” 

Guthrie County Hospital CEO Patrick Peters welcomed survivors and caregivers to the event by sharing a few encouraging words and reading the poem “Beannacht” by Irish poet John O’Donohue.

“Thank you for attending today and participating in Relay for Life as we remember loved ones lost and honor those survivors of all cancers,” said Peters. 

This year’s Guthrie County Relay for Life will take place from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 15 at the Guthrie County Fairgrounds Event Center and will feature the theme, “Camping Out to Kick Cancer.” 

The event will include dinner, a silent auction, kids games, a cake walk and a pie auction. The opening ceremonies will begin at 6:00, and this will include honoring survivors, sponsors and teams. At 8:00, the event will move outside to the grandstand for a concert by the Pale Moons and a hypnotist. Tickets are $10 per person and cancer survivors will receive free admission. 

In honor of the theme, Relay for Life committee members Sheri McCann, Angie Crowder, Cindy Slaybaugh and Caroline Kness made a list of items needed for camping and shared it at the celebration. Each item had a corresponding cancer-related meaning. 

A camper represents the American Cancer Society’s hotel partners and Hope Lodges. Food symbolizes the importance of nutrition for cancer patients. The map symbolizes the American Cancer Society guiding patients through their cancer journey, and a flashlight represents light and hope. 

The event concluded with musical and theatrical performances by Panorama high school students Josie Arganbright, Ruby Hummel, Shekynah Haworth and Lauren Soll as well as the Panorama drumline. 


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