MURRAY— Some people have to overcome cancer. Some people have to overcome climbing Mount Everest. Kay Risser had to do both.
Risser, 59, the talented and gifted coordinator for kindergarten through 12th grade at Murray Community School, went on a three-week journey through the Himalayas of Nepal in September and October.
"It was a feat that being a farm girl, sheesh, I thought I could handle anything," Risser said, "but it was a feat that tested your physical ability, your mind and your knees, hips and the spiritual part of it. It was a challenge every day — every single day."
Risser's journey was through a program organized by the Des Moines-based, nonprofit organization Above + Beyond Cancer.
Above + Beyond Cancer was founded by cancer Doctor Richard Deming in 2011. The organization was formed with a mission to reduce the burden of cancer across the globe.
Risser has had breast cancer twice. The cancer was in the same breast, but it was two different types of cancer. The first cancer was stage 1 and the second cancer was stage 2. Once the cancer appeared a second time, Risser made the decision to have a mastectomy and "be done with it."
Dr. Deming was Risser's cancer doctor, as well as her husband's cancer doctor. Risser's husband died from lung cancer three years ago.
It was Dr. Deming who asked Risser to apply for the trip.
"First, I thought, oh what a great way to celebrate me making the hurdle for the second time," Risser said, "and it was an honor for Dr. Deming to personally ask me to apply."
The organization received approximately 1,500 applications for the trip. Risser was one of 18 cancer survivors chosen. There were also 19 support-system people accepted for the trip.
One of the reasons Risser went, she said, is because she wanted to have a life-changing adventure.
However, training for the adventure had to come first.
Risser joked about her training by saying she did so much, even her little dog didn't want to go anymore when she worked out.
Risser did a lot of stair climbing and climbed the steps at the dam at East Lake in Osceola.
"That's where my dog says 'I'm not doing this again,'" Risser said. "It got to be comical with him."
However, even with the amount of exercise Risser did, nothing could have prepared her for the task at hand.
The goal was to climb to the base camp at Mount Everest.
It was like climbing the stairs at school, but never coming down, Risser said. However, instead of stairs, the group had to deal with rocks, boulders and tree roots.
"You always respected the people, the sherpas, that you met because they were carrying big things on their back," Risser said. "It's not modernized from a certain point up, so all the new buildings, and everything you saw, you knew that every piece of lumber, refrigerator was brought up on a back of a young individual, a sherpa, or somebody."
When Risser arrived at base camp after her uphill climb, the next day she passed out. Many people on the trek thought they'd lost her, she said.
What drove Risser to reach the top was the 45 prayer flags she had promised people were going to fly there.
"That was my duty and I stayed strong until then," she said.
Once Risser had accomplished her goal, her body just simply gave out. Fortunately, Dr. Deming was with her when she passed out.
Risser said she had been bound and determined to stay on her feet the entire time of the trek, as well as be in front to help lead the way. Physically, she had worn her body out by the time she reached base camp.
"I guess I did it more than anything to prove to myself and my students that cancer is not a killer. It doesn't have to be a killer," Risser said. "Look at what your teacher did. Look what your grandma did. Look what your mother did. I did that more for that purpose because the majority of the students have cancer somewhere in their families."
Risser has a 2-year-old granddaughter, and she is looking forward to the day when the granddaughter can say "This is what my grandma did, and she did it right after she had cancer."
After Risser returned from her trek, she got many comments from her students that if she can do it, they can do it.
"Don't take the little things in life so seriously as they tell you to," Risser gave for advice. "You just take life one day at a time and enjoy and don't worry about things. I'm not a worrier anymore. Things do not worry me."