Attitude, Prayer and a Trusty Trek Help Ken Steinhoff Beat the Odds
This story is reprinted with permission from the Ozaukee County News Graphic
by Renira Pachuta
March 23, 2006
When Ken Steinhoff of Grafton was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer one Friday in June 2003, it was like someone punched him in the stomach. The doctors told him the cancer had spread to his liver and his lungs, and their prognosis was not optimistic.
"Either let the disease run its course and consider hospice in about six-12 months," they suggested. "Or undergo treatment, which will be very uncomfortable and, if you¹re lucky, survival chances may increase to 12-18 months."
The ex-Marine, who admits he smoked between the ages of 20 and 40, decided to seek a second opinion. "I¹ve always been a fighter," he explains. "And I was not giving up without a fight." The following Monday found him and his wife Sue, at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa where he hooked up with oncologist Dr. Paul Ritch.
"(Your condition) is serious," confirmed Ritch. "But we¹re willing to work with it if you are." The Steinhoffs liked his attitude and on the spot decided that Froedtert, one of the top cancer centers in the United States, is where the battle for survival would be conducted. Steinhoff felt he was off to a pretty good start.
"I had a wonderful family (Sue, a nurse, daughters Sherry Bublitz, Valerie Salzman and son Dan), a truly supportive church base and a lot of prayers, and my exercise regimen over the years to fall back on," he recalls. Before his illness, he¹d been a regular at aerobics classes put on by the Grafton Recreational Department, attending faithfully two or three times a week for 17 years. He¹d taken yoga classes for a couple of years and he was also an avid jogger, running two-to-four miles regularly. But when chemo started in June 2003, he found he was unable to do anything, except take advantage of his yoga training.
"With all the tests and procedures," he remembers, "yoga really paid off ... just being able to go some place else when you¹re being used and abused (helped enormously)."
He did a lot of reading, too, and one of the books he picked up was Lance Armstrong¹s, describing the biker¹s ordeal with cancer. Steinhoff thought to himself, "If he can do it, maybe I can give it a try." And with that, he resurrected one of Dan¹s old bikes that was sitting in the basement, took it to Grafton Ski & Cyclery, and had it reconditioned to the tune of about $150. He also bought himself an odometer so he could keep track of the miles.
"The bicycle has been a big part of my recovery," says Steinhoff, "and it¹s why I¹ve been around as long as I have." He¹s adamant about this, even though he remembers feeling as if he was going to throw up every time he climbed on the bike after undergoing chemotherapy. "But after about five minutes," he says, "the endorphins kicked in, I did an about-face and I felt much better." That first year Steinhoff rode about 300 miles. In 2004, he got it up to 1,100 miles. And last year he pedaled a total of 2,700 miles - that¹s roughly as far as Vancouver! Not bad for someone who was given less than 18 months to live nearly three years ago.
Steinhoff¹s enthusiasm for biking has even spread to his grandchildren, who compete with him in races held during local festivals, and also to members of his church, Grace Lutheran in Grafton. "Some friends and I formed the Grace Bicycle Club," he explains. "It¹s been a lot of fun. We¹ve got members from grade-school age up to people my age (he¹s 61) and older, and they¹re from all walks of life. We¹ve made a lot of new friends and the fellowship has been wonderful."
However, when the Cedarburg/Grafton Relay for Life cancer benefit takes place on June 16 and 17, don¹t expect to see Steinhoff riding his bike around the CHS track.
"This is one time I¹ll be on foot," he says with a grin. And he¹s certainly got something to smile about. Last week, Steinhoff was told by Ritch that he¹s in remission!
Source: © Ozaukee County News Graphic