Every year Stacey Hockaday takes on a new challenge. A marathon. A bike race with a 10,000-foot climb. Next week, it will be a hike to Mt. Everest Base Camp. They’re the types of things you can’t just say, “Let’s wing it,” and have success.

This idea to push her limits began when the toughest obstacle she’s faced to date ended up changing the way she saw the world. The biggest difference between this first challenge that inspired the annual test of courage and all the others – she didn’t ask for this one. Cancer invited itself in without knocking.

She may not have asked it to come over, but since it did, Hockaday let cancer teach her a thing or two before asking it to politely leave with chemo and radiation therapy.

“I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody,” Hockaday said. “But if I could go back and have a choice, I wouldn’t change it I don’t think.”

She doesn’t talk about cancer like an enemy. In fact, she speaks of it as if it was closer to a friend. A friend she knew for only a brief time in her life that was harshly honest with her, pushed her, taught her to appreciate mountains among purple skies and fat full moons and good conversation, and then left without leaving contact information.

One time cancer did return, six years after she thought it was gone for good. A mastectomy and six months of chemo were served at the final reunion.

She may have lost her hair and a breast, but those were the small prices to pay for the feeling that she can take on whatever she puts in front of her.

“The first time anything bad happens to a person, you think, ‘How am I going to get through this?’” Hockaday said. “Now you feel there is very little that you can’t survive, that you can’t find a way to get through and come out better on the other side. It’s never gonna be harder than just getting through that cancer journey. You really know you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”

Last year Hockaday was the only female in a group of 11 cyclists who rode 308 miles across the entire state of Iowa. Yes, there is a famous annual event called RAGBRAI in which thousands of people ride across Iowa in a week. Hockaday did it in a day. Twenty-one long, nauseating, achy hours. Dr. Richard Deming, who is leading the cancer survivor group to Mt. Everest next week, and Bob Irving, a co-survivor also heading to Nepal, were among the team of 11.

Hockaday will explain that like cancer, these challenges aren’t overcome instantly. Time plus positive mindset equals the answer to getting through it.

“It’s not that you’re cured from cancer the next day. It’s the journey,” Hockaday said. “Then you get there and it’s like, alright, I got through that, and it gives you a confidence in yourself.”

Although once a year Hockaday likes to take on something that balances on the fine line between possible and impossible, cancer taught her to appreciate the small stuff. She also does something kind for a stranger as frequently as the opportunity presents itself.

A favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quote hangs in her office, and she can recite most lines from memory:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Her story in short: Cancer has helped Stacey Hockaday succeed.

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