Zach was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma his freshman year of high school. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. The initial diagnosis came about after he had been to the doctor several times over the course of 12 months or so because of a cough that would not go away. They found cancer in his lymph nodes, spleen, as well as some spots on his lungs. He went through chemotherapy that fall and radiation early the next spring. In spring 2014, he passed the one-year mark for being cancer free.
During chemotherapy treatments, he was taking a pretty high dose of Prednisone and experienced a fairly rare side effect – Avascular Necrosis. Which means bone death. The bones in his knees, specifically, started to die. For Zach, weight-bearing movement on his knees can be very painful. There is no way to reverse the damage already done, and he is putting off his eventual knee replacement in attempt to finish high school baseball where his is currently a pitcher for his team.
We miss him already. But we will get back to that in a minute. Lets start at the beginning, shall we?
Zach’s wish experience started when a LIMOUSINE came to pick him up to go to the airport. How cool is that? I told you, Make-A-Wish does it up right! Zach and his cousin, Nick, met his uncle, Ryan, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Friday afternoon. They flew into Winnipeg where they would spend the night before heading to Red Lake on Bearskin Airlines early Saturday morning.
And we mean early! Their flight left around 6am and landed in Red Lake before 7am. When I left the lodge in the barge it was just getting light outside. I gleefully picked them up (attempting to be wide-eyed and bushy-tailed) and took them to breakfast. At Tim Horton’s of course. What better way to introduce them to the pristine Canadian wilderness than with the iconic Canadian doughnut shop? They were impressed, I’m certain. We got a box of Timbits for the barge ride and headed out.
They were anxious to get started, and Travis was ready to take them out on the lake. Everyone piled on warm layers and they headed out for the day. We decided on a late supper schedule, so they could maximize fishing time. I was certain the rain, wind, and cooler temperatures would force them in early. I was wrong. Those guys stayed out on the water until dusk EVERY SINGLE DAY. Very impressive. They certainly didn’t catch the best fishing weather during their trip, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t catch fish!
Zach, Nick, and Ryan were happily catching eater sized walleye and northern all day long. By Tuesday, Zach was ready to start targeting some bigger fish. He wanted to land a big walleye or northern to get that coveted big fish picture. It would be the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae type trip. Travis was committed to the cause, despite such cold and miserable weather. I just kept cooking and baking and building fires so they would be warm and well fed at the end of another day on the water.
On Wednesday, the trio set out on Parker without Travis. Again, Travis was even impressed that they stayed out for another 10+ hour day on the water when the temperature was barely breaking 50 degrees. When their boat finally came in and Zach walked in the main lodge, Travis asked them how it went. A huge smile spread across Zach’s face. Just before calling it a day, Zach caught two northern above the slot size in a 10-minute stretch! He was thrilled. Ryan appropriately named that bay on Parker “The Bay of Pigs”.
Here is Zach with his 36″ northern:
And a 38″ northern:
Not to mention all the other fish they caught that day! They were defying the odds out there, for sure.
All in all, it was an unforgettable week. It was so great to get the chance to do this and it ended up being fortunate that they were the only guests in camp. It allowed Travis to get in the boat a little more and we could adjust meal times to whatever they wanted each day. We even had walleye for breakfast! I also picked up The Great Outdoors, staring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, from the library for all of our viewing pleasure. Turns out it is a family favorite of theirs.
The week ended too quickly, as they all do here at Eagle Falls Lodge. Travis and I were in awe of Zach. He was such a gracious, well spoken, bright, considerate, and goof ball kid. Turns out he is just as much of a book nerd as I am. We talked about books and how the movie portrayals never turn out as good. He knows a TON about football -like an incredible amount. He practically talked circles around Travis regarding various players, trades, etc. I thought Travis was the most informed football fan out there, but I might be wrong. Just as we had expected and hoped, he is a die-hard fisherman. Come rain, wind, or potentially snow.
Zach talked about going to college in a few years. He talked about his family and friends back home. He talked about reaching the five-year cancer free mark, when he enters the ultimate “survivor” club – a HUGE milestone for those who have faced cancer. He talked about making it back up to Eagle Falls Lodge. In fact, I think he made a promise of sorts. We couldn’t be more pleased, and we will hold him to it.
I know Travis and I were both a little anxious as to how this trip would go; both of us hoping it met Zach’s wish experience expectations. The morning they left they told us it exceeded expectations. Talk about success.
Cancer is a terrifying and unforeseen reality that too many people have to face. It is ugly and comes in countless forms. It causes unnecessary loss and heartache. But it can also be beaten by some of its most unlikely captives. And it is beaten every single day. But it can’t be beaten alone. Every cancer patient relies on medical experts and technology, the love of family and friends, the gift of time, and a few unsung heroes and volunteers. As a result of this experience, Travis and I feel challenged. Challenged to do more. Challenged to hear more stories. Challenged to share Zach’s, as well as our own. I know Zach had a blast, but so did we. When you voluntarily give – whether you give expertise, time, money, air miles, whatever, it feels incredibly good. It’s addicting. I promise, you won’t regret it. Choose something you are passionate about and find out how it can challenge you.
Happy Monday, folks.