We grew up in the same house, with 4 of us Sunker children, all given the same opportunities and taught the same lessons as children. We all played sports, ate healthy, learned the importance of hard work and perseverance. Although we have had many achievements and accomplishments in life, we have all had our struggles and speed bumps along the way. For my sister, she hit a big speed bump in life sooner than the rest of us. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, at too young of an age to be dealing with any form of cancer. To add to that, she was easily the healthiest of all of us, exercising more frequently and eating all of the right foods to be in perfect shape. So to say the news of this diagnosis was shocking would be an understatement. I still remember that phone call from her telling me the news, and being in complete shock that her of all people would end up with this at such a young age. After getting over the shock of this news, it was easy to sit back and say that if anyone had to fight a fight like this it should be her. She is very strong-willed and lives a healthy enough life to be able to handle the tight restrictions of a battle with cancer. But nobody wants to have to say those words, especially about a family member.
In true Sunker fashion, Kimberly didn’t take any of this new part of her life and just ignore it. Every step of the way, she kept the most positive attitude that anyone battling cancer could possibly have. Sure she had some bad days, who wouldn’t. But every time we spoke she had her eyes set on the end results of her battle and she was going to win. There was never any talk of “what-if”, or I’m too tired to keep fighting this. Every conversation was about where she was at in her fight, the progress of her efforts, and what she was going to do once she got past this stage of her life. If you’ve ever had someone close to you go through a battle with cancer, you know that having a positive attitude like this is very rare. Thankfully for all of her family and friends, she never strayed from this mentality, because we all wanted her to beat this and continue on in life. I’ve personally witnessed someone close to me not fight with all of their strength, and the outcome isn’t usually good in those cases. But just as the rest of us Sunkers seem to be, you always try hard, you don’t quit, and you set high goals and plan on reaching them. And Kimberly did just that. Aside from the obvious desire to return to a normal daily life, she made it very clear that she wanted to be able to continue with one of her passions, hiking and backpacking. Over the last few years she began doing some serious hiking and backpacking in Colorado. And in the last 3 years has decided to hike the entire Colorado Trail, segment by segment. This goal is shared by my brother Robert, and in the last two years my sister Suzie and myself have joined in on this goal. We all have our reasons internally for wanting to achieve this accomplishment, but over the last year of Kimberly fighting cancer, she made it clear that she wanted to get through her fight and recover in time to complete this year’s segment of the Colorado Trail. I’m certain her doctors must have hated her telling them over and over again to hurry it up and get her through her treatments so she could get back to normal and train again for her goal. But at the same time, that should be a perfect example to doctors of the attitude someone should have to fight a battle like cancer. She was ready to do whatever she had to do to get the cancer out of her body and recover her strength to get back to her goals in life.
With the greatest joy possible, she can say she attained that goal. She fought through months of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, pain management (not taking medicine) and physical recovery. In less than a year from being diagnosed with breast cancer, Kimberly fought it with everything that could be thrown at it, removed it from her life, and continues to physically recover from the fight. Can she say she’s back to 100% in all aspects of her pre-cancer body, no. But she can say that she fought the hard fight and won. And although she may have come out the other side with some pain and scars, she made it through the fight.
So why am I sharing this description of my sister’s battle with cancer? Because it is truly a story worth sharing. It’s worth sharing because she is proof that doing all of the right things can have it’s rewards and payoff in the long-term. It’s worth sharing because it is a good story of how the good side won in an ugly fight. And it’s worth sharing because she is an inspiration and should be followed by others who may be in the same fight. Kimberly is a tough woman for a lot of reasons. But nothing can compare to the toughness of someone being faced with a life or death fight and choosing to only accept life as the outcome. She did everything the doctors told her, and she stuck to her plan to beat it and recover. This entire fight lasted less than a year. And the pictures I’m including in this are from a week ago. She continued on her goal this year to complete another segment of the Colorado Trail and succeeded. She didn’t just succeed and complete Segment 6 of the trail, she practically led the pack all 3 days and 38 miles up through 12,000 feet and back down some. After hiking segments with her last year I can tell you with certainty she looked just as strong as she did a year ago. How many people can say they were diagnosed with cancer, then beat the cancer, and then threw a backpack on and hiked in the mountains from 10,000-12,000 feet, all within a year? That takes one tough person, physically and mentally. It’s simply amazing to have seen this take place, and I couldn’t be more happy and proud that I watched my sister accomplish this. She was part of my inspiration to train for this year’s trip, because if she was going to go ahead with the segment after all she had been through, what would my excuse be not to go or to not complete it successfully?! I had no excuses. So I trained most of the year, much harder than I have before. And that kept playing through my head, if my sister can do this after battling cancer a few months ago, I have to be stronger and train better to make sure I can be right there with her another year.
I hope other women and men can hear her story and use it as motivation to reassure them that it is possible to win the fight against cancer, and you can continue your life and achieve your goals even if you’re thrown a major obstacle like this. But it doesn’t come easy. You have to put your time in, you have to do the right things, you have to suffer through the hardest parts of the battle, you have to accept that the outcome could be bad even if you fight your hardest. But if you don’t fight at all, you’re not as likely to come out of the battle in the end. My sister knew what she wanted in the end, but she still needed some encouragement from time to time. Others will need encouragement too, and some will need a lot. But it’s worth it no matter what. Not everyone wins the fight against cancer, but it takes a strong fighter and it takes the right mentality to have a good chance. Help others be strong and help others keep their minds strong if they are going through this. Share stories like Kimberly’s, because it’s an amazing feat to have beat cancer and still achieved such an amazing physical goal in such a short time. And sometimes the ones suffering need to see that there is hope and there are real people that fight and survive to continue enjoying life, and that it is always worth the effort. I’m so proud of my sister. I’m proud of her for being strong when it would have been impossible to stay strong. I’m proud of her for not giving up, no matter how bad it got. I’m proud of her for putting on her strongest face to others during her battle. But I’m also proud of her for showing her weakness from time to time. I’m proud of her for winning her battle and fighting to make sure she would be here with us again this year. I wish everyone that was put to this test in life would ace it like she did. But it takes a whole team sometimes to get someone to pass this test, so be that team if you are ever presented with this circumstance in life.
We all love you Kimberly. We are proud to be a part of your team. And words can’t express the happiness we all feel knowing that you were able to join us again on our hike. I know you inspired me, and I know you inspire others out there, so thank you. I look forward to the many years to come backpacking in Colorado with you, and I can’t wait for the day when we can say we completed the trail together, despite all challenges thrown our way. I love you.