When members of the Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School volleyball team take the court this month, they know they’ll have a strong group of moms and grandmas watching them from the stands and from Heaven.
The team has met rival school Dallas Center-Grimes in a game known as the “Dig Pink” match for the past five years. This year’s game is Oct. 16 in Grimes. The volleyball players at both schools wear a shirt the day of the game in honor of the event, and have pink laces, socks and hair accessories to wear with their regular uniforms. The event was designed to raise awareness for breast cancer and money for a cure. Last year the match raised about $3,000.
Each girl plays in honor of someone affected by the disease or another type of cancer.
“It’s really near and dear to our hearts,” says Mary Beth Scott, the A-D-M volleyball coach. “We have a lot of moms and women in our community who have had it, and we try to do something every year.”
One of those women was Marilyn Hoy, who lost her battle with breast cancer four years ago. Daughter Katherine, 14, will play in honor of her mother. Her older sister, Rachel, also was a member of the volleyball team. Marilyn was very active with the team and attended Rachel’s matches while battling cancer.
“I know that she’s watching over me and proud,” says Katherine, a freshman at A-D-M.
Sydney Canney, 14, also will play in honor of her mother, Kristy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago.
“She’s cancer free now, which is great,” says Sydney, also a freshman. “She was so humble about it. She was so strong. I want to play like that and be humble and strong.”
Ellise Mueller, 14, will play for her grandmother, who is now in remission. Early detection helped her recover from the cancer, Ellise says, adding that her grandmother has always been very supportive of her playing volleyball.
Samantha Schepers’ grandmother, Kathy, lost her battle with breast cancer about a year ago. Kathy battled the disease for years, went into remission, but the cancer later came back, her granddaughter, 14, says.
“She always came to my volleyball games, so it’s hard to not have her here for it,” Samantha says. “But it gives me something to play for.”
Amy Gottschalk, 14, never got to meet her grandmother. She died from another type of cancer shortly before Amy’s older sister was born. Amy, also a freshman, will play in honor of her grandmother, who had hoped to battle cancer long enough to see her first grandchild be born.
Routine mammogram provides early detection for Adel woman
Seventeen years ago, Judy Burgus went in for a routine mammogram, where it was discovered she had breast cancer.
“It’s very upsetting; it’s almost like, ‘Oh, this really can’t be.’ But you know that it is,” she says. “Initially when I heard it, I was like, ‘Well, this is it. I better get things in line.”
Within days of her diagnosis, Burgus planned her funeral. She says she didn’t want her family to have to do so.
“Then I got myself mentally prepared and decided, ‘My odds are good to beat this,’ and my mental attitude all changed,” she says. “From then on it was just all positive.”
Burgus says a positive attitude was kept alive by her Christian faith and church family, her own family and friends, and her surgeon, oncologist and the staff at the John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines. Keeping a sense of humor was vital as well.
“I looked for reasons to smile and to laugh,” she recalls. “Laughter truly is good medicine.”
One of the things that helped her through her cancer and the treatment were professionals at the cancer center with whom she talked.
“I would encourage women who are going through the cancer right now to talk with people who offer help at the cancer centers,” Burgus says. “They offer people to talk to. It’s hard to talk to the people closest to you sometimes because they’re so emotionally connected to you. There are wonderful people to help in the system.”
Cancer treatments have changed and advanced in the 17 years since Burgus was diagnosed. Her options at the time were for a segmental mastectomy with radiation or a complete mastectomy with no additional treatment. Chemotherapy was not recommended for her case.
“Fortunately, that was not a route I had to go,” she says.
Burgus chose to undergo a segmental mastectomy in March 1997. After she healed from the surgery, she received 28 radiation treatments. Each weekday for more than five weeks, Burgus went to her job for the A-D-M School District then left at lunch to travel to Des Moines for her radiation treatment. Afterward, she returned home and went to bed.
“I was really tired,” she recalls, adding that other than skin irritation and burning at the site of the radiation, she had no other side effects.
“Considering what a lot of people have to endure, that was certainly endurable,” Burgus recalls.
Burgus was 50 at the time of her diagnosis. She says it was a blessing that her children were grown, unlike some women who are diagnosed younger in life and still have young children at home.
Burgus, who will be 68 in October, undergoes an annual screening to check for cancer reoccurrence. She has had a few instances in which the initial screening detected something suspicious, but follow-up mammograms have all been clear. She is a big advocate of annual mammograms for women.
“I’ve had no return of the cancer,” she says. “I’ve been very blessed. When it moves to a year, that’s a real cause for celebration. And then when I was able to make it five years without another reoccurrence, (it was) another milestone. Each year, I’m just thankful for all of the birthdays I have.”
Art teacher uses cancer diagnosis as life lesson for students
Susan Knutzen knew chemotherapy would mean the loss of her hair. She wanted to prepare her students to whom she teaches art at DeSoto Intermediate School and Adel Elementary School for this.
“With teaching, I had a friend write a letter and read it to the kids to let them know I was going to be gone, and wear hats or scarfs so they knew what was happening,” Knutzen recalls.
On the first day of her chemotherapy in 2010, a fifth-grade student organized the students at DeSoto Intermediate School to wear pink and form the breast cancer awareness ribbon and pose for a photo. The photo was later blown up and given to Knutzen, who has it framed in her house. Students also made her many cards throughout her cancer journey.
Knutzen has been cancer-free for more than three years. She takes Tamoxifen, a drug that is designed to prevent cancer from returning. She must take it another year.
Like Burgus, Knutzen’s cancer was discovered during her annual mammogram in August 2010. A biopsy was performed, where it was discovered the lump was cancerous.
“I was kind of shocked,” Knutzen recalls. “I didn’t believe it would happen, but then I was like, ‘Well, whatever needs to be done, I’m going to be willing to do.’ I just prayed that I would be an inspiration to the kids that would be around me, so they wouldn’t be afraid if anyone else in their family or anyone else they came across had it, so they knew a person could live with it.”
She had a lumpectomy about a month later to remove the cancerous tissue. No cancer was found in Knutzen’s lymph nodes, so her surgeon implanted a radioactive seed into the site where the tumor had been. It was through there that Knutzen received targeted radiation internally at the site, so she was able to avoid the external burning of the skin that many women receive. She received two treatments a day for five days. The seed was then removed, and she underwent chemotherapy from October 2010 to January 2011. By November, she had lost her hair.
Knutzen says she had a great support system through recently retired friends, her family and members of her church with whom she became close during her cancer battle. Rides were offered. Friends sat and visited with her during chemotherapy appointments. Another friend went to doctors’ appointments and took notes so Knutzen didn’t have to.
“I felt very blessed that I had such a good support system,” she says.
Allowing people to help her and maintaining a positive attitude were important factors during her treatment, Knutzen says.
“People want to be able to help you, and if you let them, you feel blessed by it, too,” she says.