Pete’s Legacy: A True Journey of Advocacy, Courage and Hope

Cancer Care
“Pete’s journey serves as an important reminder to all to cherish every moment, prioritize health, and never underestimate the power of early detection — no matter how old or young you may be.”

The ringing phone shattered the calm of a routine evening drive to the Dairy Queen for Kaia Ringwald, a pharmacist at CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital. Her brother Pete’s voice came through the line very clear with words that would alter her, and her family’s lives forever. As she recalls, Pete stated, “I’m in the hospital. I have cancer.” Those words marked the very beginning of a long, 18-month journey through the stormy world of cancer treatment for Pete.

Pete, always the stoic one, had brushed off his symptoms as insignificant, referring to them as minor issues. Despite being a seemingly healthy 37-year-old, Pete’s cancer was advanced. Reluctant to disrupt his work routine, daily living, and lacking a primary doctor, he postponed seeking medical attention until his symptoms escalated, ultimately landing him in the emergency room.

Accompanied by Kaia, Pete went to his initial Oncology appointment. “The initial one was tough,” Kaia said. “I did know that most colorectal cancer, even Stage 4, is treatable and even curable. So, I was expecting some sort of optimistic news at that appointment. When the oncologist pulled up his positron emission tomography (PET) scan though, it was quite apparent that his cancer was widespread,” Kaia stated. Shortly after his first appointment, they all received the devastating news from his physician — the cancer was advanced, beyond the reach of a cure. Just as Kaia suspected.

PeteYet, amidst the unexpected prognosis, faint glimmers of hope lingered throughout the months as experimental treatments and clinical trials started to arise. Pete bravely attempted to get evaluated for a non-standard procedure and another trial later on but was deemed too sick for either option.

As months passed, Pete’s journey soon became a roller coaster of emotions — marked by the highs of optimism and the lows of setbacks and diminishing hopes. Kaia went with Pete to one final ER visit shortly before the end of his life. She said, “It was not a good experience.” In spite of his fight, Pete’s battle with cancer reached a devastating conclusion in 2019. He was only 38 years old when he took his last breath, leaving behind a grieving wife, two young children, and shattered family members.

Reflecting on his journey, Pete found peace in fully embracing each day with courage and hope. Despite the challenges he faced throughout his diagnosis, he chose to approach each day with positivity and determination. By maintaining such an outlook, Pete was able to confront his diagnosis with significant resilience. This mindset empowered him to face his challenges head-on and to continue fighting for his health.

In the wake of Pete’s passing, Kaia grappled with the decision to share her brother’s story. Encouraged by his wife, she hoped that others might draw attention to the warning signs of colon cancer and look for prompt medical intervention. Pete’s legacy lives on, not only in their memories but also in this important message to prioritize health and never ignore the symptoms that could save a life.

Dr. KraftImportance of Colon Cancer Screening: Gastroenterologist Daniel Kraft, MD

Colon cancer remains a significant health concern worldwide, but effective screening methods have revolutionized early detection and prevention strategies. Among the primary screening techniques are coloscopies and FIT (fecal immunochemical test) testing, each offering distinct advantages and considerations for patients.

According to Dr. Daniel Kraft from CentraCare Digestive Center, a colonoscopy is recommended “every 10 years for average-risk patients.” Not only can this type of screening detect cancer but also serves as a proactive measure by identifying and removing polyps, the precursors to cancer. In contrast, the FIT testing, typically are done “every three years and are meant to detect cancer not polyps.” Kraft explains this test primarily targets cancer detection and is less effective at preventing the development of polyps.

Risk factors for developing colon cancer include “family history of colon cancer or polyps, a personal history of colon cancer or polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as some specific genetic syndromes” said Dr. Kraft. Some lifestyle factors which also influences screening involve habits such as “smoking, alcohol use, a high fat/low fiber diet and lack of physical activity.”

Technological advancements have “allowed for much better visualization and detection of polyps than in the past, as well as innovations in endoscopic methods for removing large polyps and even some cancers, prevent the need for a surgical resection.” Despite the effectiveness of colonoscopies, Dr. Kraft noted that patient reluctance often stems from concerns about invasiveness and risks. However, the benefits of early detection and prevention far outweigh the potential drawbacks. With a” lifetime risk of colon cancer in the U.S. is about one in 24,” screening remains a critical tool in reducing mortality rates associated with this disease.

Dr. Kraft encourages patient participation in screening programs to combat colon cancer. Health care providers, like Dr. Kraft, play a crucial role in educating patients about the importance of regular screenings and addressing any concerns they may have. As he stated, a “colonoscopy can not only detect cancer early but can prevent cancer altogether by removing the precursor lesion. We have excellent tools to screen for it.” We need to “increase patient participation in some form as screening should be a priority.”

Final Notes

Pete’s journey serves as an important reminder to all to cherish every moment, prioritize health, and never underestimate the power of early detection — no matter how old or young you may be. His simple, daily routine, like watching the sunrise, highlights the value of finding joy in the small moments. When faced with significant challenges, Pete’s approach to life teaches us to take a step back and appreciate the beauty around us. Finding peace in the little things that bring us joy and happiness can truly make a difference. It is these small moments that can provide immense strength and resilience during difficult times, reminding us that each day presents new opportunities for growth and positivity.

In sharing his story, we honor Pete’s courage, resilience, and hope in the face of adversity. May his legacy inspire all of us to embrace each day, and to never lose sight of the importance of prioritizing health and advocating for early detection.

As Colon Cancer Awareness Month continues on, Kaia urges others to take advantage of the free screening kits provided at various CentraCare locations, emphasizing the importance of early detection through colonoscopy or alternative screening methods. Kaia, now deemed high risk, undergoes regular screenings. “While a colonoscopy is not a fun procedure, it is a lot better than chemo,” she asserts. She urges others to “take the time off work and go get checked out.”

As a friendly reminder to all, and a message that is near and dear to Kaia and her family, “Be Nice,” as Pete would say.