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Making strides against cancer
Ron Reschke walks across Wisconsin to promote cancer research

The fire spread quickly at Fort Hunter Ligget, just south of Big Sur. The 200-foot flames had ignited from a combination of a particularly dry California day and soldiers’ practice rounds on the military base. Ron Reschke had come in with a team of fellow firefighters to extinguish the hell-wall of fire, but looking around him and seeing only the smoke-outlined silhouettes of his crew, Reschke realized he was alone.

Reschke moved from Madison to California at 17. A young, rebellious teenager who had perhaps become even more so since his father’s death, Reschke was in need of some direction. That direction pointed toward Big Sur and manifested itself in the form of Kelly Collins, an ex-Vietnam vet with little patience for the unruly.

“I came into the fire service as green as they come,” Reschke says. “Kelly was a hard-nose of a boss and was known for not getting along with everybody. But he must have seen something in me because he took me under his wing and straightened me up.”

Reschke and Collins’ boss-employee relationship eventually grew into a friendship, which sometimes involved not-so-friendly poker games some nights after work.

“If you were invited to play cards with him, then you knew he must not hate you all that much,” Reschke recalls with a smile. “But he definitely still insisted that you ‘pay for your lessons.’”

After three years of working together, Collins began showing signs of illness. Missing work for three days at a time, Collins would often come back with a splotchy, red face and a reserved attitude. Post-work card games dwindled and were replaced with Collins’ solitary sessions with an old Nintendo.

Collins later told his co-workers he had been diagnosed with skin cancer. But Reschke wasn’t buying it.

“There was more going on than he was letting on,” he says. “But it was an issue of respect that we didn’t question him.”

Reschke’s suspicions were confirmed a year-and-a-half later. He had been working with a different crew since he transferred to Washington, pursing a promotion and a degree in diesel hydraulics from Bellingham Technical College. Though he had been keeping in touch with Collins, it was another fellow firefighter who told Reschke that Collins never had skin cancer to begin with—he’d been undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer the entire time.

Shortly after Reschke moved back to Madison in 2001 and began working at the UW-Madison Hospital and Clinics transportation department, he received news that his mentor and friend had passed away.

In a sense, Reschke was alone once again.

Cancer does not discriminate. It attacks people of every age, sex and race and has surpassed heart disease as the number one killer of Americans under 85. In Reschke’s opinion, it would be easier to find a haystack in a forest fire than to find a person whose life has not been affected by cancer.  Though many people diagnosed with cancer have a support system of family and friends to help see them through to the road of hopeful recovery, fighting the disease into remission is ultimately a solitary journey. And Reschke wanted to embark on a journey of his own—a journey not only to raise money for cancer research, but to raise awareness as well.

bridge across Wisconsin: to learn more about this photo, watch the slide show detailing reschke's walk across the state.
photo: ron reschke

road to sabin
the road to Sabin: to learn more about this photo, watch the slide show detailing reschke's walk across the state.
photo: ron reschke

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Why volunteering is worth your time
Addicted to adventure

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curb magazine 2005: balance for wisconsin's young professionals