- Route: Sierra
- Ride Year: 2018
- Hometown: Dallas, Texas
- School Year: Senior
- Major: Plan II Honors, Pre- Medical
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Laura Rathjen and I’m in the class of 2018, studying in the Plan II Honors program and on the Pre-Medical track. My parents, Kurt and Sarah, twin sister, Natalie, and younger brother, Adam, are my best friends, role models and biggest supporters. My mom has blessed me with her large heart and selfless attitude. My brother is wise beyond his years, always there for advice and support. My twin sister, my wombmate as I like to call her, is not only an incredible student and athlete, but my best friend and such a dedicated and loving girl. My father has inspired me, in his work as an orthopedic surgeon and his dedication to his children. Whether it is team spirit at a sporting event, birthday dinners and celebrations, or a feast of charcuterie before a Thanksgiving feast, our family goes above and beyond in all that we do.
I am interested in medicine as a career since I have a service heart, love learning and feel called and driven to use those passions to help others. I was raised in an active family, and some of my fondest memories are competitive swimming, the fellowship and competition with 130 teammates in the state cross country meet, biking throughout the United States, or hiking around the world. I am a people person who never likes being alone, and ends up talking to herself when in such situations. My immediate family, my seven cousins, who are practically my siblings, my six grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends in various organizations across campus all play a significant role in my life. I am a nerd, a runner, a biker, a wannabee Food-Network star, a traveler and a girl that’s biking to Alaska!
Why I Ride
Studying cancer from a molecular perspective in my cell biology class, to first-hand witnessing the effect it has had on my own father, cancer has infiltrated my life, as almost everyone's, in many ways. Growing up, I witnessed my father and uncle, who are both orthopedic surgeons, improve the quality of life of their patients through surgery. I was exposed to medicine firsthand through volunteering at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. Five consecutive summers I volunteered at the hospital, falling in love with the medical profession and hoping to have the privilege to serve others through this profession in the future. My senior year of high school, I came to see the patient's perspective of medicine. My father was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. Despite this challenging diagnosis, my father continued to be the toughest man I know, battling cancer, exercising daily and working full time as both an orthopedic surgeon and the best father in the world. He mirrors the happiness on the children's faces that I fell in love with at Scottish Rite.
I ride for my father, Kurt Rathjen. When my Dad was initially diagnosed, in September of 2013- he waited about six weeks to tell our family. Given the severity of his cancer, and initially poor prognosis, he "didn't want to burden us". Blessed by great medical care and a motivation to stay active, my father would run while receiving chemo in a portable pump, even running seven miles the morning of his eight-hour abdominal operation in the summer of 2014. Two weeks later, we vacationed on the Oregon coast and hiked along the wild and beautiful Pacific Coast Trail. My dad was a man who loved to exercise and be outdoors. My fondest memories with my father are running in Barcelona, riding a tandem bicycle from Austin to Buda, hiking Table Mountain in South Africa, and biking through the Douro River valley. My father was an athlete, a genius, a goofball, and an all around rock star.
My siblings and I can attest that there was a "pre-cancer" and "post-cancer" Kurt. This change in my father was not what you would typically picture when one's body is attacked by cancer, it was not the physical changes but his dedication to his children that defined my dad's post-cancer life. He very much dedicated the rest of his time on this Earth to us after his grave diagnosis, whether that was moving us into college every year to taking us on absolutely incredible trips around the world.Pre-cancer Kurt was a flawed and imperfect human as we all are, but post-cancer Kurt earnestly tried to fix his relationships with us and right the wrongs that his drive and stubbornness may have caused before. My father was able to hang on past any doctor's prognosis simply because he wanted to get everything in order to make the impact of his death on my siblings and I more bearable. His cancer story is one of incredible resilience, will, and persistence. He really never stopped fighting and his spirit never dulled. Kurt really believed he would win the battle against cancer, as he won in so many other endeavors, but because I believe his diagnosis changed him for the better, although in the end a losing battle, he was ultimately victorious.
This past fall, my father's cancer journey became even more difficult. I spent a lot of my fall semester at home, caring for my father with other close family members. My father passed away November 20th, 2017, surrounded by his cherished family. To me, cancer didn't seem unfair because I understood it is a flaw of an imperfect human body, but I do feel as if my time with my father was unjustly cut short. Fifteen people die of cancer every day in the United States, so while my father's death is by no means extraordinary or profound, I know it will have a profound impact on my life and I will for a long time feel an extraordinary sense of loss. I have never seen my father more excited for my extracurriculars than he was for Texas 4000, and I know this experience is such an incredible way to honor him.
I ride for Trudy Medlin as well. Growing up, I was "raised" by this petite, strong and incredibly kind German woman. Before I was born, Trudy worked at my house- helping with laundry, cleaning and keeping my parents sane. Once my parents had three kids in nineteen months, Trudy became a second mother. Some of my fondest childhood memories of Trudy include our summertime walks to go get hotdogs and frozen custard, and early mornings before school when she wrestled me out of bed. Twice a week, my days began with the cheery, loving face of Trudy waking me up, always with a nugget of knowledge to start my day. When I was too young for school, Trudy would iron clothes next to my high chair, watching the Food Network- the only show that would stop my crying. In middle school, Trudy reminded me to always be kind to others, no matter how mean or rude pre-teen students seemed to act. In high school, Trudy told me to be true to myself- and that yelling is never the answer, no matter how different someone's beliefs are than yours. Before college, Trudy raved about how she wished she had the opportunity to go to college, and told me to not take it for granted, not only the experience, but more importantly the chance to grow and learn in all aspects of life. Throughout my life, Trudy was a hard-working, intelligent woman that made my days brighter.
In the summer of 2016, Trudy was in her 70s and diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Trudy battled cancer with the courage she had her entire life, having immigrated from Germany to the United States during World War II without her family. As is common in pancreatic cancer, her diagnosis was late and her cancer was aggressive. I remember my father texting me that Trudy was admitted to the hospital in the fall of 2016 and that her doctors thought she might only live another 24-48 hours. Thankfully, I was able to immediately go to Dallas and visit Trudy in the hospital. Her face- jaundiced yellow and drained of her usual sparkle, looked me straight in the eye as she explained to me the amount of pain she was in, leaving me with the last words of "no one should ever have to suffer this much". Again, I was in awe of Trudy's selflessness in her time of suffering, she wasn't referring to herself, and how she shouldn't have to suffer- but was truly thinking of others. By an act of God- Trudy went home from the hospital the following day. She lived another month before passing away at home, surrounded by family, over the Thanksgiving 2016 holiday.
Lastly, I ride for Kira Rathjen. My dads younger sister, I am so lucky that my Aunt Kira is someone I am incredibly close with. In the fall of 2017, as my father was moving me into my senior year home in college, his voice cracked and tears rolled down our eyes as he told us that his sister Kira was diagnosed with breast cancer. At this time, my dad was exhausting all possible options to continue to fight his cancer, and he knew the disease his sister was going to have to fight. My aunt has amazed me with her strength and tenacity during her cancer journey. While we were taking care of my father in his final month of life, she was getting chemotherapy- still showing up to be with our family with a smile on her face and a warm hug. I cannot begin to imagine the emotions one must feel while watching their loved one die of the same disease they are fighting. My aunt's strength and tenacity are skills I try to emulate. My aunt is also the best host in the world, she can bake a better chocolate cake than anyone and is always trying new recipes, and I love that I get to share my joy of cooking with her. Aunt Kira is battling breast cancer with strength and grace and I ride for her everyday.
All of these incredible people in my life helped shape me into woman that I am today. They have inspired me, supported me, and pushed me to follow my dreams. Although Kurt and Trudy have both died due to their cancer, they have not lost. Their journeys with cancer have taught me incredible strength and tenacity, and I am honored to ride for them everyday. Throughout this program, I will spread knowledge of cancer prevention and awareness. I will ride to honor and spread hope for all of the patients and their loved ones that are touched by cancer, and to raise money to continue to search for a cure for cancer. Although I have lost two of my mentors and best friends to cancer, I am hopeful that this journey will allow me to help others in their cancer journey. In the words of my father, "We must, we can, and we will beat cancer."