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Living Proof: Kayakers Embark On 301-Mile Journey To Raise Funds For Cancer Research

Keith R. Stevenson
Pocono Record via AP
Carolyn Choate, left, and her daughter Sydney Choate Turnbull paddle into shore at the Bushkill Access along the Delaware River in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area near Bushkill, Pa., on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.

When Carolyn Choate was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2003, her tumor had already grown the size of a golf ball. Doctors gave her three years to live.

Fourteen years later, Choate is kayaking the Delaware River for a cause that's close to her heart: continuing the work of the woman who saved her life.

"This trip is our tribute to Dr. Angela Brodie," Choate said. "She's not here to see me finish this, but we want her work to continue."

Brodie's research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has extended the lives of thousands of women. The British scientist pioneered a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors, now commonly used to treat patients like Choate with estrogen-positive breast cancer.

In June, Brodie died from complications of Parkinson's disease. She was 82 years old.

"I met Dr. Brodie in 2014," Choate said. "I'm living proof we have reason to continue her research. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren."

Choate was 45 and working as a TV producer in New Hampshire when she received her grim prognosis. Her daughters were 9 and 12 years old at the time.

"I wanted to see my children graduate high school," she said. "Six years, seven years, eight years — nine years later, I was convinced that drug saved my life."

Now Choate's family aims to add $500,000 to a research endowment in Brodie's name. She and her eldest daughter Sydney, now 27, plan to paddle 301 miles from Port Jervis to Baltimore, raising donations and awareness along the way.

The mother-daughter duo disembarked from New York on Thursday. They reached their first stop in Bushkill ahead of schedule Friday morning.

"Today we passed $2,600 so far," said Choate. "We're almost at the six percent mark."

Choate's husband Gordan Jackson — and canine companion Ollie — will meet them by car at each stop along the way. Younger daughter MacKenzie was unable to join them this trip, Choate said.

The journey will end Aug. 27 at the Baltimore Harbor in Choate's home state of Maryland. There, the kayakers will be honored by the Baltimore Orioles, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association and other organizations.

This isn't Choate's first philanthropic journey. The adventurer in 2015 recreated the Old English epic "Beowulf" by backpacking through Denmark.

"As a feminist, it always bothered me that all the great works were through a male lens," she said. "I told myself if I lived through this, I would retrace those epics myself."

Her travel raised $3,200 that year. The money was split between the Danish Breast Cancer Organization and the New Hampshire Breast Cancer Coalition.

"I've done Homer's Odyssey and I've done Beowulf," Choate said. "This time, I've decided I'm going to write my own epic — the 'River of Life.'"

Choate will have a co-author in this story. Sydney saw her mother's latest journey as a chance to save others from the worry she endured as a child.

"We're literally just paddling down a river and it raises money for research on cancer drugs," said Sydney. "If that means a mother like her gets to last longer than three years, then we could kayak forever."

University of Maryland School of Medicine has raised $2 million already for Brodie's endowment — named also for her living husband, distinguished researcher himself. It is called The Drs. Angela and Harry Brodie Distinguished Professorship in Translational Cancer Research.

The Mary Kay Foundation and PANDORA Jewelry donated $10,000 each to get the project started. New York boating company Sea Eagle donated two tandem kayaks for the voyage.