Mom and daughters join in breast cancer walk

Breast cancer survivor Betty Duttenhefer of Dickinson recently participated in the Twin Cities Komen Race for the Cure as a way to celebrate life and to raise funds for breast cancer research.

Breast cancer survivor Betty Duttenhefer of Dickinson recently participated in the Twin Cities Komen Race for the Cure as a way to celebrate life and to raise funds for breast cancer research.

Duttenhefer and her three daughters formed a team for the three-day, 60-mile walk from Coon Rapids, Minn., to St. Paul. Enduring blisters and fatigue, they walked 20 miles each day for a team-total of 240 miles.

The walk is sponsored by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure philanthropic trust project which funds cancer research.

"I guess I walked really beause I could, that I was healthy enough I acutally could do it. A year after the diagnosis, I'm amazed I could walk 60 miles," she said. "You walk for yourself, you walk for other women undergoing treatment and for those who didn't survive. I think that's the emotional part of the journey."

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Duttenhefer talked about her 17-year journey with cancer.


In 1990, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. She went through a mastectomy and series of chemotherapy treatments.

"I went 16 years cancer free. Then I noticed some weakness and numbness in my right arm. It was literally falling alseep," she said.

Originally diagnosed as a tightening of the nerves and blood vessels in the arm, Duttenhefer requested a CAT scan. The scan revealed a lump in her armpit.

"It was women's intuition, but there it was," she said. That led me to a surgeon who took 40 percent of the cancer. The mass was the size of a walnut," she said.

Doing research on the Internet, Duttenhefer learned about the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa, Okla. When an opening became available in August 2006, Duttenhefer was admitted for TOMOtherapy, which is a CT-image guided intensity-modulated radiation therapy of cancer.

She received the treatments five days a week for six weeks. She was supported by her husband, Gary, daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law and friends.

"The Cancer Treatment Center deals with wholestic support of all kinds -- spiritual, nutritional education. The whole mind-body connection was there," she said.

When Duttenhefer returned for a PET scan in March, there was no evidence of cancer.


"Praise the Lord, I certainly didn't do it on my own. I credit the power of prayer, the new technology and research people," she said.

If the scan came clean, Duttenhefer agreed to join her daughters on the breast cancer walk.

"They had already signed up as a way to give back," she said.

To participate in the walk, each team member needed to raise $2,200.

"It really came quite easily -- my husband's telephone connections, family and friends, supporters of breast cancer awareness," she said.

Raising the money was the easy part. Training was more difficult. Each of the team members trained in their own home town. The oldest daughter, Misty Duttenhefer, is a teacher in the Fontana School District of California; Starla Inman is a stay-at-home mom in Rochester, Minn.; and April Duttenhefer is a Minneapolis Gap store manager.

"I really stuck to my training schedule-plus," said Duttenhefer. Starting in March, she walked a total of 645 miles over 24 weeks.

"Isn't that crazy? I walked with friends and by myself. I walked to my cousin's farm and I walked around town. I used the rec center on the days of poor weather," she said.


"I lost a pants size. Generally, I'm feeling better with more energy," she said.

The family met in Minneapolis, along with 2,500 participants. The majority were women, with a few men representing the 2 percent of the male population who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

"August 24 was the first day of the walk. It was that date a year earlier when I had to tell the kids my breast cancer was back," she said.

Duttenhefer vividly remembers the journey on highways and through towns. People along the way offered water and encouragement.

"It kept you going," she said.

The weather in August remained comfortable with the hottest day at 89 degrees. Sweep vans picked up walkers who needed assistance. Medical tents offered blister care or chiropractic treatments.

The women walked as a team, but slowed the pace when one of the daughters developed painful blisters. They were identified by their white T-shirts reading "Gary's Girls."

They read signs of encouragement along the way such as "The blisters will be gone before her cancer is."


"It was quite motivating to see these," she said.

Duttenhefer said the participants slept in tents. Motrin provided relief from the aches and pains.

A closing ceremony was held after everyone crossed the finish line.

"As we were closer to the finish line, we heared the cheering. It really becomes emotional. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing."

Duttenhefer's team raised $11,000, adding to the grand total of $5.6 million.

Duttehenfer continues to go for walks around Dickinson.

"When I came back, I was able to share my stories and pictures about the walk," she said.

She is a member of a cancer support group that meets every third Saturday at the Dickinson Days Inn-Grand Dakota Lodge.


"We also formed a Relay for Life team. We've been doing it for the last several years," she said.

Dutteneher expressed appreciation to everyone who supported the walk. The St. John Lutheran Church women were big supporters.

Duttenehfer and her daughters want to participate in the walk next year. She welcomes other people in the community to join their fight against cancer by walking or making a donation.

"That's why we walk -- a world without breast cancer," she said.

Information regarding the walk is available on the Internet at .

For more information, call Duttenhefer at 483-5552.

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