Chelsie Leuthardt learned at an early age not to put life on the back burner.
Sunday, Oct. 4, would have been another day to get things done around the house or relax from the busy work week. Instead, Leuthardt, a game warden for Scott County, made plans with friends to spend the day on the water having fun – in a pink boat.
It was a time for the healing powers of fishing to do their work. With each cast of the lure, the troubles of the past year subsided for the moment. With each fish on the line, the laughs got a little sweeter.
This outing was planned as a way to take Leuthardt out of the routine schedule of a breast cancer survivor. It was a gathering of caring people hoping to show Leuthardt a good time.
In the final days of her Department of Natural Resources training to become a game warden, Leuthardt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found a lump in her breast months back.
“Even the biopsy came back negative,” Leuthardt said.
She remembers putting it on the back burner, not wanting to believe it was cancer. She was told that it was highly unlikely to be cancer since she was only 26 years old.
But when the diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer, it didn’t bring her down. It gave her more drive to live to the fullest.
“You find a lot more positives in life,” Leuthardt said.
She found out she not only had her family and friends, but her whole community behind her looking to assist her needs. She also found out she is quite the warrior, determined to keep cancer from bringing her down.
Her last chemotherapy treatment was in April and it has been one year since diagnosis. The outing on Rice Lake in Brainerd was one of many planned by friends Stefanie Hurt, founder of the nonprofit W.I.N.K (Women In Need of Kindness) and Kevin Kerkvliet of Pink Boats for Hope. Both look to spread awareness of cancer and help in the healing process, be it through fishing, paying for groceries or just saying a prayer.
Also part of the fishing party was Jamie Dietman, local hunting and fishing guide and the Brainerd Dispatch “What’s Up Outdoors” columnist. He took Hurt out last winter ice fishing near his Park Rapids cabin. He learned about her struggles with cancer and got a new perspective on what a day on the water can do for a person who’s hurting.
He realizes sometimes those who are suffering need less talking and more time of quiet solace, drinking in the beauty around them.
“We talk about fishing,” Dietman said. “You don’t talk about the bad stuff, just about the good stuff.”
He was moved by the passion of the “pink” that surrounds the breast and other cancer awareness movements. So much so that he decided to make his boat pink.
That’s right. Pink stickers cut to the shape of the boat completely cover the outside. And, it doesn’t keep him from catching fish.
“I get asked if it’s my wife’s boat,” Dietman said.
But aside from the occasional jokester, Dietman gets a lot of attention and respect on the lake and highway. It starts a conversation about cancer that might otherwise be avoided.
“I get calls all the time, ‘Hey are you out on the Mississippi? I just saw a pink boat.’”
If you saw the pink boat it was likely Dietman or Kerkvliet proudly representing W.I.N.K. and Pink Boats for Hope.
Before heading out on the water, Leuthardt and Hurt found out they had a lot in common. Both are breast cancer survivors, both were diagnosed in their early 20s, both enjoy fishing and both have to stand up to cancer every day and stay strong even if the disease rears its ugly head once again.
“One in eight women will get breast cancer,” Hurt said.
She likes to tell her friends that she had it twice so they don’t have to worry about it.
Once out on the water, the gals spent the day catching “smallies” and walleye, which was a great addition. The key, however, seemed to be the conversations about their experiences with cancer. Being able to talk about the battle with someone else who has been there – it was something both anglers needed more than they needed fish in the livewell.
Behind the names
What do you say to someone who has been dealt the blow of cancer? Unless you’ve been through it yourself, words often aren’t enough, according to Hurt, 28, a two-time survivor of breast cancer.
Through her two bouts with cancer, she learned people often struggle to come up with the words to say how sorry they are for someone experiencing cancer. And to avoid compromising a weak immune system, she cautions against hugs or similar close contact.
Her advice: Just “wink” at those going through the battle. It’s a small gesture that shows you care – without causing too much awkwardness.
The Perham native survived chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and the passing of her father. And now she’s on a mission to help other women in need of kindness make it through the fight. You can find out more about her mission by searching for women in need of kindness on Facebook. Her nonprofit is based out of Little Falls.
The mission of Pink Boats for Hope is to increase and improve the awareness of cancer, according to their website. Kerkvliet says he regularly attends fishing tournaments around the state representing Pink Boats for Hope and raising funds to help those suffering from the disease and those who have survived it. By bringing their pink boats into professional fishing they hope to gather attention and support for the cause. They love taking out folks who have had cancer as a way to take their minds off the battle and focus on fishing and fun.
Visit http://www.pinkboatsforhope.com/ to find out more about their mission.
Johnson may be reached at 855-5863 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mj_upnorth.