Survivor stories motivation for new Relay director
November 18, 2013
In December 1998, Kim Durst's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later, she and her mother were invited to one of the first Relay for Life events in Guthrie County to participate in the survivor celebration.
"It gave my mom this incredible feel that she had support from the community for what she was dealing with," said Durst, explaining that her father had died a year earlier. "We were just trying to absorb all of it. All the sudden she had a whole new support system."
Nearly 15 years later, Durst accepted a position as Relay for Life specialist for the western Iowa region encompassing Carroll, Cass, Adair, Audubon and Guthrie counties. She started working at the American Cancer Society office in Carroll on Oct. 28. Her duties include steering and guiding Relay for Life and coaches vs. cancer events throughout the five counties.
Durst said that she has already spoken to Carroll County co-chair Jon Heim and that his enthusiasm is contagious.
"(Heim) is so excited about (Relay)," she said. "It's fun to see that type of excitement. I think it will continue to grow."
Durst led her first team, Angels for Life, in 2000.
"It started in honor of my mom, then in honor of a friend of mine who had skin cancer, then in honor of my best friend's sister - everyone pretty much on our team had a survivor," she said. "We were excited to be a part of something we felt was so huge, not only supporting survivors, but raising money to find a cure."
Unfortunately, many on that team now participate in memory of those family members and friends, including Durst, whose mother died in 2003 when her breast cancer spread to her ovaries before metastasizing in her brain.
"She had a difficult five years," Durst said. "She's the one that totally inspires me to continue to push forward."
In 2006, Durst was asked to serve on the Guthrie County Relay for Life committee. She rounded up a few coworkers and attended the informational meeting to discover that only two other people were interested.
"We thought, 'What have we gotten ourselves into?' but of course we were excited because we had so many ideas," she said with a laugh.
After three months of planning, their 12-person committee raised about $19,000. Over the last seven years, the committee has grown to 30, the teams from 10 to 25, and the amount raised to more than $60,000.
"We were scared to death, but we moved forward and pressed ahead," she said.
In 2008, Durst received a volunteerism award for her work with Relay for Life. She also spent three years serving on the State Advisory Council with lawyers, doctors and other community members from across the state.
From a small farm in northwest Guthrie County, Durst and her husband Alex raise cattle, corn and soybeans. They have two daughters, Krissy, 22, and Karley, 19, both of whom have been involved in school pink-outs, as well as the Relay events. Her husband and a small contingent of men regularly help with setup and logistics on Relay days, a service Durst says the Relay couldn't do without.
Durst studied English at the University of Iowa before going to work in insurance and marketing. When the offer came for the American Cancer Society position, she "couldn't say no."
"I was ready for a change, and I felt that this was going to be a positive change," she said. "My heart was in it."
She said that she knows she has "big shoes to fill" replacing C.J. Niles, who worked in the position for about nine years.
Niles decided to retire from working full time. Starting in 2014, she plans to host workshops on community leadership for women, encouraging local women to take more roles in public and private offices and civic clubs.
Her greatest achievement as relay director was to "keep the train on the tracks," she said. Relay was already a big event in Carroll raising about $150,000 each year. Nearly a decade later, it has grown by more than $100,000, and for 10 years in a row the Carroll Relay raised the highest donations per-capita among counties in the 20,000-25,000 population category across the country.
Niles said that she will miss working with the individuals on the committees but still hopes to participate on a Relay team. She is confident Durst will do a great job "working with the volunteers to let them get the job done."
For her part, Durst hopes to "be able to create the excitement and continue to keep the fire of Relay going in finding that cure."
A self-described "people-person," Durst cites this social side of herself as her biggest strength. Her goals align accordingly. She hopes to not only work with the various committees, volunteers and survivors, but truly get to know them.
"I want to hear their stories, and if I don't have an answer, I want them to know I'll get an answer for them," she said. "I have a commitment to not just being there, but being a part of it."
One of her most important responsibilities is to get the word out about the programs available to help and support cancer patients, she said. These programs include Reach to Recovery, a program in which trained breast-cancer survivors give recently diagnosed patients and families a chance to talk and ask questions of someone who has been there; Road to Recovery, which helps provide rides to and from treatment centers; hope lodges, where patients and families can stay during treatment; Look Good ... Feel Better, which provides wigs, scarves and makeup tips for women who have lost their hair during treatment; and Navigator, a 24/7 hotline that assists patients find treatment and clinical trials, answers financial and insurance questions, find housing and transportation, or find support groups.
"I want to really pull survivors into events so they know they're not alone in their community and have a lot of support and a lot of people cheering for them in the community to keep them going," Durst said. "We're doing this so we can continue research and fund research to find a cure. Hopefully someday we won't have to hear the words 'you have cancer.'"
The American Cancer Society is hosting an open house for community members to meet Durst from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the organization's office, located on Highway 30 on the east end of Carroll. There will also be a short wrap-up program for last year's Relay, which raised $260,729.07.
"They really rocked it, " Durst said. "Carroll does an amazing job with their Relay. I'm excited to be a part of something so big."