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How a journey on the Superior Hiking Trail helps children's cancer research, 25.5 miles at a time

Jun 12, 2019 09:12AM ● By Editor
Brenda Anderson (from left), Jodi Wegge and Marcy Douglas, who comprised Megan's 2Crew, pause for a photo on Carlton Peak during a training hike for the 2018 Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike. Photo courtesy Jodi Wegge

From the Lake County News Chronicle - June 12, 2019

LUTSEN, Minn. — It was a long day, and it had its ups and downs.

"We started at 4:30 in the morning," Jodi Wegge recalled. "And we got off the trail — I want to say we got off the trail at 4:30 in the afternoon." 

Wegge, 54, of Aitkin, was talking about a 25.5-mile journey last August on the Superior Hiking Trail. The hike out of Lutsen features some of the trail's most ambitious climbs. 

"You've got Lutsen Mountain and Oberg Mountain and Carlton Peak," Wegge noted.

Ribbons attached to daypacks represented those who donated money and those being honored by the hike
Ribbons attached to daypacks represented those who donated money and those being honored by the hike.

Wegge and 47 others weren't just out for a walk in the woods. They were hiking on behalf of a group of people who, Wegge says, are on a much more difficult journey.

"It was absolutely amazing," Wegge said. "And then to get done and know that it wasn't even half the battle that Megan had done, or the other kids."

Wegge was referring to her daughter Megan Wegge, now 20, and all of those afflicted with cancer as children.

In April 2011, when Megan was 11 and the Wegge family lived in Moose Lake, doctors removed a softball-sized mass from Megan, along with half of her liver. She was diagnosed with a highly malignant form of liver cancer. She faced a grim prognosis.

Megan Wegge in May 2011 shortly after being diagnosed with liver cancer
Megan Wegge in May 2011, shortly after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Her difficult journey included Indiana University, where she was treated at a Proton Therapy Center, one of only nine such in the country at that time. It made it possible to target radiation to where it was needed so that the doses could be stronger than otherwise would be possible.

Grateful for medical progress that increased the hopes that Megan would win her fight, Jodi became an enthusiastic supporter for an organization called CureSearch, which specifically raises money to support pediatric cancer research.

"What we're really looking to do is to move things along quickly, and to focus on drug development," said Brecka Putnam, a senior campaign manager for the nonprofit. So in the last four years, there have been only four (cancer) drugs developed specifically for children. "If you think about when you or I have a cold or the flu, we would never give what we take to one of our children. We would give them something formulated and designed with kids in mind. Unfortunately, we don't always have those options with cancer treatments."

Every day, 43 kids are diagnosed with cancer, Putnam said. One out of eight of them doesn't survive. But two out of three of those who do survive suffer "devastating, lifelong side effects."

CureSearch is funding for research in hopes of finding more effective and age-appropriate treatments for childhood cancer, and one of the ways it raises money is through its Ultimate Hikes. 

Putnam was hired nine years ago to manage "walks around lakes," she said, and two weeks after she was started was asked to arrange long, single-day hikes as fundraisers. 

She loved the idea.

The first two hikes, that year, were in South Carolina and Lutsen. There now are seven across the country. The hikes range from 20 to 30 miles, Putnam said, with the length determined by "what Mother Nature dictates." 

Shorter hike distances can be arranged, Putnam said, but each hiker is responsible for raising $2,500. Just a couple weeks ago, she said, the Ultimate Hikes broke through the $6 million mark in money raised for children's cancer research.

Jodi Wegge had wanted to participate before, but hadn't been able to find a training partner. In January 2018, she decided she was going to go for it regardless. She was joined by two other women, however, in Megan's 2Crew — the "2" for the number on Megan's hockey jersey.

They had trained determinedly, Wegge said, and felt confident going into the hike. She even hiked a little farther so that her hike would be the same length as a marathon.

But it was an emotional experience, she said. 

Posters with photos of children diagnosed with cancer line the final stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike in 2018
Posters with photos of children diagnosed with cancer line the final stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike in 2018.

"When you go to hike, they ask if you're hiking in honor of anybody and if you are, then you send photos of that person," Wegge said. "And so as you turn the last corner and you're coming down the home stretch, they have all these great big posters in the ground with, 'In loving memory of,' or 'In honor of.' So it's pretty touching."

Jodi Wegge pauses next to the poster for her daughter Megan during the 2018 Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike
Jodi Wegge pauses next to the poster for her daughter Megan during the 2018 Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike.

All of Jodi Wegge's family were there to cheer her on, including Megan, one of a set of triplets. Now a pre-med student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., Megan is an eight-year cancer survivor in good health. But she hasn't escaped the residual effects.

"My body is still healing," Megan said matter-of-factly in a phone interview from Fargo where she works as a research assistant at a hyperbaric clinic while taking summer classes at Concordia. "There are days when I have some pain. ... The muscles in my back and abdomen are very off-balance because of all the surgeries and radiation."

Megan Wegge earlier this year while studying for a semester in Florence Italy
Megan Wegge earlier this year, while studying for a semester in Florence, Italy.

To read more of the original article and read related reporting, follow this link to the Lake County News Chronicle. https://www.lcnewschronicle.com/2410669-How-a-journey-on-the-Superior-Hiking-Trail-helps-childrens-c...

To learn more about the Superior Hiking Trail Ultimate Hike, follow this link at curesearchevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=1791&pg=entry.

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