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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Raising Awareness By The Mile

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Daane DeBoer and Chad Anderson are hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and early breast cancer detection awareness.
Williamstown - Almost constant rain, rivers bloated with rushing waters, bouts of heat and humidity and a flourishing insect population have dogged cousins 22-year-old Chad Anderson and 20-year-old Daane DeBoer at nearly every step of the duo's partially completed Appalachian Trail hike.

"This Isn't About Us"

But Anderson and DeBoer have vowed to keep going until they've covered the about 2174 miles between the trail's Mount Katahdin, Maine northern starting point and the trail's southernmost point at Springer Mountain, Georgia.

"When hiking isn't the best, we do remind ourselves why we are out here and that this isn't about us," said Anderson during a July 18 interview at the North Hoosac Road home of Polly Macpherson.

Anderson and DeBoer are walking the rugged trail to raise money destined for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and to generate awareness of the potentially life-saving importance of early breast cancer detection.

"One of our big messages is early detection," DeBoer said, and stressed the value of breast self-examination and mammography. "If something comes up, treat it early rather than later."

The duo hope to raise $25,000 that will be donated to the Komen foundation.

It is a cause imbedded within the hikers' hearts.

"I Saw Her Go Through The Pain..."

Four years ago, as Anderson was preparing to leave his family's Grand Rapids, Michigan home for his first year at college, his mother Sharon Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her treatment included chemotherapy and radiation, and her ordeal left family members feeling helpless because there was little they could do to ease the situation, Chad Anderson said.

"I saw her go through the pain and the trial that it was for her to go through that. I saw the trial that it was for my family."

There were times when Chad Anderson wished that he could undergo treatment for his mother to spare her from the ordeal, he said.

Speaking during a telephone interview, Sharon Anderson said that Chad considered postponing the start of his college education at Baylor University in Texas because of her illness.

She urged him to go to school as planned.

"I told him you need to go on with your life," she said. "I told him, 'you need to go on and impact other lives.'"

Sharon Anderson is currently cancer-free, she said. She is using the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, Chad Anderson said.

The Appalachian Trail trek has touched Sharon Anderson deeply.

Man of Action

"Words can't even begin to describe it," she said. "It brings tears to your eyes to understand all the compassion he has. He's always been a generous, compassionate, guy. Near to Chad's heart is early detection because early detection is where a lot can be cured."

Anderson clearly believes actions speak more loudly than words; in 2004 he and Baylor student Drew Mitchell bicycled 3,700 miles as part of a "Bike Across America" effort that benefited the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. Anderson has been a "big brother" to Simon, a 15-year-old Waco, Texas, high school student.

The hiking contingent began as a trio but Brad Kinkeade had to leave the trail after two weeks because of knee difficulties. Sharon Anderson said she is pleased that DeBoer, who is her nephew, is on the trail with her son.

"It's a good thing for cell phones," she said. "I get reassured [by a phone conversation] every week or so. [Chad]loves what he's doing. It's an adventure and there's a cause to it."

Check Out The Web Site

Anderson and DeBoer have hiked about 600 miles since beginning their journey on June 5. They stopped in the Rutland, Vt. area earlier this month and agreed to an interview with a Rutland Herald newspaper reporter. The subsequent article promoted the need for early breast cancer detection and the fundraising aspect of the hike.

The duo left the trail in the Northern Berkshires at about 8 a.m. July 18 and plan to meet with North Adams Mayor John Barrett III on July 19 before resuming their trek. Barrett's wife Eileen Barrett lost a battle with breast cancer; Barrett subsequently founded the Eileen Barrett Oncology Center at the North Adams Regional Hospital.

The next planned off-the-trail stop is scheduled at Kent, Connecticut.

Internet web site www.hike4thecure.com tracks the hike's progress, hosts a photo gallery of trail photographs, and allows people to donate on-line.

The hike should conclude in October.

Anderson and DeBoer are not expert hikers, they said, and noted that previous hikes have topped out at about 50 to 60 miles.

The hikers began hike preparations about a year ago, and contacted the national Komen foundation about their plans. National foundation members subsequently contacted state level Komen foundation board members in states that the trail passes through and asked those members to seek community Komen affiliates that would be willing to work with Anderson and DeBoer.

High Water, Hungry Bugs

DeBoer is forgoing the upcoming Grand Rapids Community College fall semester to complete the hike; Anderson, who graduated from Baylor University earlier this year, has postponed community service ventures and a job search so that he can focus on the hike.

The trail, which hosts some very rugged terrain, has proven quite a taskmaster during this season of unusual weather, Anderson and DeBoer said.

"I guess the thing that we least expected was some of the river crossings in the rain," Anderson said.

At times, the hikers crossed waterways in water "that was up to our necks" and had strong currents, they said.

Rain has been persistent.

"We were in Maine for 23 days and I think it rained for 19 of them," said DeBoer. "That might not be totally accurate but it felt like it."

Biting bugs have kept the pair company during much of the hike.

"Oh, we know about bugs," DeBoer said. "We try to walk quickly to keep the bugs off."

"We could write a whole paper on bugs," said Anderson.

The duo are proceeding through hazardous situations with forethought and caution.

"We keep telling ourselves to make the right decisions," Anderson said.

Quests On The Trail

The hike is worth all the trail tribulations if they can raise revenues and encourage early detection, both said. Anderson has three younger sisters and DeBoer has two older sisters and one younger sister.

Many of the folks they meet along the trail seem to be embarked on personal quests, Anderson said.

People are walking their way through the emotions of divorce, job loss, death of a loved one and other situations, or are walking in celebration of milestones such as graduations and retirements.

"We've met many interesting people on the way and each person has their own reason for being out there."

Anderson and DeBoer keep journals and are recording the details of the trip, they said.

"I Will Never Forget That They've Done This, And Why"

Macpherson is a breast cancer survivor and the breast health program coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Healthcare REACH Community Health Foundation. Cheryl Kramer, a Komen foundation state board member, called her on July 14 and asked if she could offer assistance to Anderson and DeBoer. Macpherson agreed to host the duo at her home.

The hike underscores what individual endeavors can accomplish, Macpherson said during a July 18 interview.

"These two kids didn't join a big march - not that there's anything wrong with a march - but sometimes you just put your boots on and take a step," she said. "You put one foot in front of the other. It's wonderful, it's really wonderful. Here are these two young men who, because of their personal situation, decided to do this."

Cancer awareness and fundraising efforts benefit from large events and small, personal undertakings, she said.

"I think we need both. We need the big hoopla that get lots of publicity and sometimes, we need the one-on-one support."

Over 211,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year, according to information available at the Komen foundation Internet web site. Over 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year. About 1,690 invasive breast cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in men, according to the site. Over 460 men will die from breast cancer this year.

There are presently over 2 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, according to the Komen foundation information. Earlier detection and improved treatments are believed to be responsible for a decline in the number of breast cancer deaths, according to the site.

The town, the city and the REACH breast health program are honored by Anderson's and DeBoer's visit, Macpherson said.

"I think it's pretty powerful that they chose us as a place to stop," she said. "It's such a treat for the city."

The hike is an example of the good individuals can accomplish, she said.

"Sometimes you can be a leader by turning to your cousin and saying 'hey, let's take a walk.' I will never forget that they've done this and why."

Additional information about the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation may be acquired at a www.komen.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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