by Bret Amundson
Stefanie Hurt is a two-time breast cancer survivor. And she’s still in her twenties.
She founded the organization W.I.N.K. after realizing that insurance doesn’t cover all of the cancer-fighting expenses such as a tank full of gas to get to the hospital and back. “Women In Need Of Kindess” is what it means, but the real story is where the name came from.
“No one really knows how to treat cancer, in the respect of: what do you to say to someone that has cancer,” Hurt explained.
What do you say? “Cancer sucks,” is usually the extent of my eloquent prose.
“I found that there were more times than not [what people said was] very uneducated and hurtful,” Hurt continued. “I just decided to take the guessing out of it and asked people to wink at me.”
And right there, W.I.N.K. was born.
“A silent little gesture-if you winked at me, it meant you’re thinking about me, you care about my well-being, you’re praying for me and you’re supporting me.”
A simple wink can carry the weight of a full-bore bear hug. Without exposing a person with a weakened immune system to unnecessary germs and potential complications.
“I didn’t care if it was a 2-year-old or an 80-year-old, if I got winked at, it made me feel good and it gave me that extra little boost to keep going. If it happened for me and gave me that encouragement, it has to work for other people,” Hurt said.
She took the word “WINK” and transformed it into “Women In Need of Kindness”, and began to look for ways to help other people.
After her second bout with breast cancer at age 26, she wondered, “Why me?” She had endured an emotional perfect storm at age 24. She had just given birth to her son and life was good. But two weeks later, she’d get the crushing news that her father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. And then just a short two weeks after that, the unthinkable happened: She would begin her own fight with breast cancer.
“There has to be a reason why this is happening and I should be doing something with it. So I should turn my experience into something positive,” Hurt added.
W.I.N.K. would become a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping patients and their families. While many other organizations raise funds to research ways to beat cancer, W.I.N.K. focuses on the bills and expenses that aren’t covered by anything else.
“We tag-teamed with Pink Boats For Hope,” Hurt explained. “What we do is give cancer patients the opportunity, through donations, to go have a free day of fishing in a pink boat. No need to worry about cancer that day. It’s just you and God’s country-just floating.”
It started with two pink boats, Kevin Kerkvliet’s and Dean Kaminski’s.
“We teamed up with W.I.N.K. to specifically help those that are financially strapped during their fight with breast cancer,” Kevin Kerkvliet said during a recent MNSJ Radio interview. “We’ll help them with a grocery bill, a taxi ride to their next doctor’s appointment, or if they want a fishing trip, we’ll take them fishing for the day so they don’t have to think about their disease for the day and just go fishing.”
Are we seeing more cancer these days? Or just more people trying to help?
“I think…more people are realizing that this is a disease that needs to be tackled,” Kerkvliet continued. “Is it more frequent? Yeah I think with some of the conditions that we’ve got going on with all the chemicals that are in our food now, I think it is on the rise. I think it is even more important now that we spend time trying to fix this.”
“She is an avid outdoors person who loves to hunt and fish and it fit right in with our mantra,” Kerkvliet said.
Hurt enjoys spending time on the water and in the tree stand. But you’ll see more than just pink boats out there.
“We’ve teamed with some race car drivers too, so you’ll see be able to see them all around Minnesota tracks,” Hurt said while describing pink cars cruising around the local tracks. “It might be a manly sport, but guess what, there are a lot of guys out there supporting breast cancer (awareness), and not just breast cancer, but any kind of cancer.”
There are a few ways you can help out.
“We’re trying to grow our Facebook page,” Hurt said. “Head over to W.I.N.K. and give us a like, we’d certainly appreciate it. Then you can keep tabs on us and who we’re trying to help.”
“We have a donation page on our website, http://www.pinkboatsforhope.com,” Kerkvliet said.
The fleet of pink boats is growing currently there are 3 pink-wrapped boats on the waters in Minnesota, the 3rd owned by Jamie Dietman. More pink boats are planned with more anglers getting involved.