‘You’re all worth it’
Two-time breast cancer survivor Christina Radke shared her cancer journey and her journey to Africa during the Guthrie County Relay for Life annual celebration of survivors and caregivers on Wednesday at the Guthrie County Hospital.
Radke, joined at the event by her mother, Paula Fox and father, Steven Pote, along with other family and friends, grew up in Panora. Her cancer journey began at age 30.
“I went in for a regular check-up with my OBGYN,” Radke said. “He felt a lump, said it could be nothing, but to have it checked out.”
Radke was “shocked” to learn she had cancer.
“I took it in stride,” Radke said. “I had the best team of support that I could have through all of it.”
With a Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis, Radke went through months of chemotherapy and radiation. She had a lumpectomy of the tumor on her right breast.
Two years later, during a follow-up appointment with her radiologist, a look at scar tissue, called for a breast MRI, a scan that produces detailed pictures of the inside of the body.
“Low and behold the right breast was fine, but there was a new cancer in the left breast,” Radke said. “I followed up with a bilateral mastectomy, more chemotherapy, more radiation and then reconstruction.”
Along her cancer journey, Radke met Oncologist Dr. Richard Deming, who founded Above & Beyond Cancer, a charity with a mission to elevate the lives of those touched by the disease. Dr. Deming is medical director of Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines and known for the compassionate care he provides cancer patients and their families.
“He’s the most caring and compassionate man I’ve ever met,” Radke said.
Radke was one of the 40 cancer survivors, patients, and caregivers who joined Deming on a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, in January.
“Each year he puts a mission together where he takes cancer survivors and caregivers on cancer journeys to celebrate their survival and also to learn a little bit more about themselves and their journey,” Radke explained.
Before their climb, the group with Above & Beyond Cancer, in a partnership with the American Cancer Society, helped begin the process of building the first-ever Hope Lodge outside of the United States in Kenya. A Hope Lodge offers lodging to patients and families undergoing cancer treatment, and a new Kenyatta National Hospital Hope Hostel is in great need as patients and families travel far distances to receive cancer treatment, Radke said.
“Their treatment center rooms were much different than what we experience in our treatment center rooms,” she said. “We did some painting and up keep there. We did what we could while we were there.”
Radke said there was a medical strike going on during their visit.
“It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. There’s a lot of government interference with the medical community there,” Radke said. “For three weeks people with cancer there weren’t getting treatment and that includes the children.”
Following the mission work at Kenyatta National Hospital the group of survivors and caregivers traveled to Tanzania, home of Africa’s highest mountain,Kilimanjaro.
“We often compared it to cancer,” Radke said of the climb through so many different terrains. “There were twists and turns and you never knew what to expect, and then there was beauty in it, and friendships and bonds created along the way.”
Radke said she visioned beauty at the top. But then she endured winds blowing 40 miles per hour and freezing cold conditions.
“I fell down several times,” Radke said.
But Dr. Deming cheered her on.
“He was behind me saying, ‘You can do this, just one more step’ so we made it,” Radke said. “We climbed 18,881 feet to the summit. It was step and breathe.”
Radke shared stories and photos of their meal tents and gatherings of fellowship. She told of the cooks and guides who became her friends.
“There were 120 of them who supported us up on the mountain,” Radke said of the men who wait for jobs to climb the mountain. “It’s one of the more lucrative jobs in Africa. They make a dollar a day in their society and with us they make $5 a day and up with the tips we give them.”
One of the guides, Radke said, is a teacher, but he makes more money climbing the mountain. He’s climbed Kilamajaro over 300 times.
“He makes it look like a piece of cake,” Radke said.
The trip gave her perspective and value in her life.
“I used to think ‘Gosh, cancer at 30 and again at 32’ and how much of my life did that take, but now I look at it as a blessing,” she said. “Look how many people I have met, how many friends have I made, how many amazing things have I pushed myself to do that I maybe wouldn’t have.”
Radke said she hopes everyone can find inspiration in their journey, their everyday lives.
“You’re all worth it,” she said.
Pat Peters, Guthrie County Hospital CEO, welcomed the few dozen cancer survivors and caregivers.
“You beat cancer by how you live and in the manner of which you live,” Peters said.
He quoted world-famous inventor Thomas Edison saying, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t.”
Your life is your story, Peters said.
“Write well, edit often. Be thankful for this day,” he closed.
Kim Durst, Relay for Life Community Manager, was pleased to see so many survivors and caregivers come to the event.
“We think of you all as family and are so glad we can come together and celebrate life,” she said.
Becky Peterson, local event leader for Relay for Life, encouraged those in attendance to participate in this year’s Guthrie County Relay for Life on Friday, June 16 from 4-10 p.m.
“We hope that helps accommodate more people,” Peterson said of the time change this year.
Committee members Caroline Kness, Cindy Slaybaugh, Angie Crowder, Kim Heiland and Sherri McCann shared readings and those in attendance took part in a lighting ceremony before a meal served by staff at the Guthrie County Hospital’s Sneakers Cafe.
ACGC all-state vocal students Klare Sheley, Malena Rumelhart, Collin Stowe and Ross Rumelhart, under the direction of vocal director Alison Buechler, performed “Homeward Bound” and “Blogodop” in a vibrant close to the celebration.
Teams can register anytime at www.relayforlife.com/guthriecountyia.