Even in the middle of the Himalayas far away from home, you can spot Kay Risser the teacher. In Murray, Iowa she teaches kids of all ages, and loves it. And they love her. There are signs of love and support in every corner of her classroom. Kay knew a chance to climb a mountain in the Himalayas would be an unforgettable lesson she could share with her kids. She didn't hesitate when asked to join the Above and Beyond Cancer group for a climb up a mountain in Nepal.
Kay, may not have known at that moment how hard the climb would be but she knew she could do it, because she knows about challenges. Three years ago Kay's husband, Bob received bad news from his doctors. He had lung cancer. Doctors gave him nine months to live. The two of them made the most of their time left together and enjoyed weekend getaways in their his and her sports cars. Kay says, "Saturday morning I'd hear the rustling of the map, knew he was going somewhere. Sometimes we'd just take off. I never knew. He said, just follow me. And I'd follow him."
Kay didn't realize how bad her husband's cancer was. He didn't want her know. Just six months after his diagnosis Kay went to check on him after he had a coughing fit. She says, "I tried everything. There was nothing I could do. He was already gone."
Gone from her life, but remembered and honored in the Himalayan Mountains, he was one of Kay's inspirations to keep trekking through an amazing part of the world. Kay also found inspiration from her own fight with cancer. Six months after she lost her husband, she noticed something wasn't right with one of her breasts. Kay had breast cancer, again. She'd already survived one round of it 17 years before.
Dr. Richard Deming lead the climbers up the mountain. He's a cancer doctor from Des Moines. He's also Kay's doctor. He said, "You could tell each day was a challenge and she did it with such grace, determination, and acceptance. She knew this wasn't going to be easy and she kept doing with a smile and with determination."
A special little girl helped pushed this grandmother along too. Kay, or Nana Kay, said she thought about her daughter and her granddaughter Mia with nearly every step.
The crew journeyed higher, all carrying with them prayer flags in honor of people affected by cancer. Kay wasn't going to stop until the prayer flags in her backpack were flying. She said, "I'm not out here as a thrill seeker, to say I climbed this mountain. I'm here to get those prayer flags up there on the summit and I can say I did it. Then I can come home, celebrate with my family, my students, and my family of friends."
Kay saw her prayer flags fly. The group flew 1000 of them that day. And after an exhausting journey up the mountain she made it safely back home, back into the arms of her granddaughter and back to the classroom where she will continue to bring smiles to children's faces and teach them about cancer, and courage.
Kay says, "They're learning that cancer is not a death sentence. I've climbed many mountains in my life, but that signified I can do anything."