Nothing's going to stop her dreams

Renata Winters refuses to buckle under weight of pancreatic cancer

The little girl in the photo next to the phone on her desk has Renata Winters' mahogany eyes and black hair.

The photo was tilted so Ava Winters' likeness faced her mother when she hung up the phone.

It was 9 a.m. Thursday; Renata Winters had been at work for an hour. She teaches students at Lewis-Clark State College the skills they need to get the most out of their education and be a step closer to their dreams.

Winters started at LCSC in June. She was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in May - 11 days after her 33rd birthday, and about 3 months after Ava's 2nd.

She smiled when she talked about her work - not as bright as when she talked about Ava waking her up that morning to watch cartoons.

"I'm not going to let cancer keep me from my dream," Winters said.

She also counsels her students on balancing life, work and school.

Winters thought it was that same strain - working, finishing a master's degree, being a single mother - that was causing her dramatic weight loss, back pain and nausea last spring.

A doctor at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center said it had already spread to her liver by the time a scan revealed the cancer - which is slow-moving but too far along for surgery.

Data from the National Cancer Society shows a 24-percent five-year survival rate for persons with Winters' type of cancer once it's spread to other areas like the liver.

After she got the news in a waiting room, she picked up a housekeeping magazine. She said she realized she had two choices: keep reading and hiding or get down on her knees and pray.

She put the magazine back on the stack and knelt. Before she started to pray, she reached over and flipped the magazine cover-down. In bold type, the back simply read, "Fear Nothing."

The 1996 Lewiston High School graduate said friends and family have surrounded her, and she can't imagine going through this in any other community. They have helped her seek treatment in Seattle and now continue it in Spokane.

Winters' high-school friends Devin Hill, Joy Ulrich, and Amy Albright have come together to put on a benefit concert tonight at Hogan's Pub in Clarkston. Winters mentioned to Hill that maybe a girls' night out would be fun. Hill decided to make it more, though, to find a way to help Winters. Soon she was on the phone to Skate Pierce with Hogan's, who graduated from LHS a year before Winters, and he started adding musicians to an already planned show who agreed to play for free for Winters' girls' night out.

Everything sort of came together from there, Hill said.

"That's a good way to draw everybody here and just show her how much we care about her and love her," Hill said.

Pierce said all the money from the cover charge will go to help Winters with travel and treatment expenses and in between bands solo acts will play in front of the bar, out back and on stage, all with their guitar cases open for Winters.

And for her friends and family, Winters started her Internet blog to keep everyone updated.

Her blog is about more than treatments, though. She writes about how she gets through the bad days, and what keeps her fighting for the good days.

"Not only does faith get me through, but I must also say my daughter gives me courage," Winters wrote in her first post. Then she told how during the first week after her diagnosis she was tucking Ava into bed at their home in Lewiston and felt the tears come.

Ava looked at her and said "Mommy, it's hard huh." Then her daughter hugged her.

And some days it is, she said, but on Thursday she was pain free, and said she has been through most of her radiation treatments.

She believes all things are possible and that miracles do happen. While she's waiting for hers, she said she just wants a good quality of life.

"Everybody has a time, but I don't feel like mine is yet," she said. Two tears streamed down her face toward a glowing smile. "I just don't. I have work to do. I have my daughter to raise."

Tonight, though, she will go to a show with her friends. She will dance and smile and live and be loved.

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Bloomsburg may be contacted at codyb@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2274.