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Kady's Climb

Posted Date: 7/10/2017
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Kady ElkinsKady Elkins has a favorite quote from the poem "All That is Gold Does Not Glitter" which is simple.

"Not all those who wander are lost."

That line was written by J.R.R. Tolkien in "The Lord of the Rings," and it's something Elkins, a nurse at the Heart Failure Clinic at McLaren Northern Michigan hospital holds close to her heart.

Nearly a year ago and at age 56, Elkins set out on the John Muir Trail in California by herself to refill her cup of joy.

She recalls thinking most people survive breast cancer, then hit the trail.

"Not me," Elkins said. "I found it while on my first solo hike."

"It took a lot of logistics and family juggling to get there, but I felt I needed to do it for me," Elkins added. "So it was a big surprise when, on day three at Squaw Lake, I found discharge coming out of my breast.

"Kind of a crossroads on the trail of life, and I decided to continue my hike."

What Elkins quickly discovered on her journey was that taking the time to complete her hike was exactly what she needed to fight the battle which laid in front of her

"The wilderness gave me strength and bravery, the people I met gave me inspiration, the planning gave me persistence and the time I had to myself allowed me to find the cancer," Elkins said. "I believe I would have never found the cancer if I had not given myself that time."

In late August, Elkins was diagnosed with breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma. She had Dr. Kevin Markham perform surgery on her breast and further pathology was done to look at margins and cell receptors.

Following multiple chemotherapy treatments and radiation, Elkins — who completed her treatment at the Karmanos Cancer Institute of McLaren Northern Michigan — looked at her treatment as she would the John Muir Trail as an analogy of life.

"I envisioned myself, with my large backpack, climbing the mountain, reaching the summit, only to find that it is a false summit and I still had a ways to go," Elkins said.

Looking back over the course of the past year, Elkins said she feels strong and brave to have reached the summit.

"That's what the wilderness brought me," Elkins said. "I think that empowerment is what the wilderness brings to a lot of people, which is why I want to tell my story."

For Elkins, life isn't about the John Muir Trail, solo through hiking or even breast cancer. It's about putting aside the craziness of daily life and seeking renewal, and what you find when you allow yourself that time.

"What you find could really save your life."

Now with the treatment portion of breast cancer behind her, Elkins will be hitting the John Muir Trail again. Only this time around, Elkins will not be taking to the trail for self fulfillment, but for others who are affected by cancer.

"My journey was difficult, but I had love and support of family, friends and strangers," Elkins said. "I need to pay it forward and support others."

Elkins along with the McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation have conducted a fundraising effort entitled "Kady's Climb" in which money raised will support the Karmanos Cancer Institute of Northern Michigan Fund through McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation. This fund will support equipment, programs and patient assistance of the oncology program at the hospital.

Money raised will help patients here in Northern Michigan. "Kady's Climb" symbolizes strength and bravery with a motivation to help others battling the fight against cancer in Northern Michigan.

From 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, Elkins will be at Chestnut Valley Golf Club, located at 1875 Club House Drive in Harbor Springs, for a kick-off party for her climb. She'll personally share her story and present the route she will take and how she physically and mentally prepares for taking on the trail, one year after her breast cancer diagnosis.

"My journey begins July 22," Elkins said. "I will travel 211 miles from the Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, which is the highest point in the lower 48 states at 14,500 feet," Elkins said. "Overall, I will climb more than 45,000 feet. And, exactly a year from the date, I will find myself at the same location I was when I found my cancer, but this time I will be cancer free."

Elkins said today, she feels great and looking back to where she was a year ago, she can't believe what happened.

"I keep thinking wow, did that really happen to me?," Elkins said. "I think for as cruddy as I felt, I kept going and eventually came out of the fog."

Elkins said she was fortunate in that she was able to handle chemotherapy well.

"I didn't suffer too much other than the normal nausea and fatigue," Elkins said. "I kept going forward, I went to work every day and some days it wasn't a lot of fun, but you remind yourself it's going to get better and tell yourself you're almost there."

She also credits her coworkers and staff at McLaren her their continual support through her journey.

"They put up streamers in my room, wrote me notes and it was really cool," Elkins said. "I kept those streams up through the whole process and would take one down after each treatment. People would sit with me in infusion and I just felt very fortunate to work here because I had everyone so supportive of me."

Not only McLaren staff, but people Elkins didn't even know showed support.

"I thought I should pay it forward a little bit and help people I don't know," Elkins said. "It makes a huge difference on your outlook knowing when people have your back. It really means a lot and I feel a little bit stronger knowing that."

Elkins said it was a struggle obtaining a trail permit for her second climb, and will have her step-daughter, niece and son with her at the beginning of the trip.

"None of them have backpacked before," Elkins said.

Elkins said her breast cancer journey taught her being brave doesn't necessarily mean being fearless.

"It's being scared, but still going forward," Elkins said. "You get told you have cancer, it kind of kicks you in the gut. I thought how am I going to handle this, but you have no choice but to go forward.

"You spend the first day on the bathroom floor crying, but you pick yourself up and a couple of chemo treatments in all our hair falls out," Elkins said. "You know it's going to happen, but nothing prepares you for when your hair falls out. That was one of my hardest days because you're standing there and all your hair is in your hands or in the shower.

"I just kept thinking I have to go to work and I don't have any hair."

Elkins, who decided not to wear a wig, but rather a mix of scarves and hats such as a Stormy Kromer, said her diagnosis made her think more of her own mortality and made her switch up some things.

"It makes you make things count and makes you make things matter, be with people that matter," Elkins said. "It's a different perspective. You keep moving forward because you have no choice.

"The entire experience made me think about being brave."

KADY'S CLIMB

Kady’s Climb symbolizes strength and bravery with a motivation to help others battling the fight against cancer in Northern Michigan.

Making a gift in honor of Kady Elkins to the Karmanos Cancer Institute of Northern Michigan Fund through McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation will support equipment, programs and patient assistance of the oncology program at McLaren Northern Michigan.

Join Elkins for a climb kick-off at Chestnut Valley Golf Course from 6 – 8 p.m.,Tuesday, July 11 (1875 Club House Drive, Harbor Springs) located between U.S. 31 and Brutus road off of North Conway Road. Elkins will personally share her story and present the route she will take and how she physically and mentally prepares for taking on the John Muir Trail, one year after her breast cancer diagnosis.

If you would like to give a gift in Elkin’s honor that will help others in Northern Michigan fight the fight against cancer, visit https://10739.thankyou4caring.org/pages/kadysclimb or call McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation directly at (231) 487-3500.

Contributed by Steve Foley, Petoskey News Review

Follow Steve Foley on Twitter @SteveFoley8.