October 21, 2011
Cancer survivor seeks cure one step at a time
Cortland native raising money for cancer research by hiking, climbing stairs
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former Cortland resident John Casterline wears a backpack as he climbs a flight of stairs Thursday at 42 Church St. He is training in the 11-story building for an upcoming stair climbing fundraiser for cancer research in Orlando, Fla.
Cortland native John Casterline has made fighting cancer his life mission.
Casterline, 68, was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer five years ago. Now he’s working to eradicate it step by step — literally.
Casterline hikes and climbs stairs, getting sponsors for the miles he walks and the stairs he climbs.
On Nov. 12, he will participate in a stair climb for the American Lung Association, climbing 25 stories in the Bank of America building in downtown Orlando, Fla., where he lives.
Casterline is climbing as part of a team of 15, hoping to raise at least $1,000 collectively for the cause. He is training by carrying a weighted backpack and running up stairs in parking garages or wherever he can find a building with at least 10 flights of steps.
Casterline has already raised $20,112, about $7,000 shy of the goal he set for his endeavor earlier this year.
In April, Casterline attempted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a daunting 2,656-mile trek from Mexico to Canada.
After developing an infection, however, Casterline had to stop about 1,000 miles into the journey.
Casterline takes Tarceva as his prime cancer-fighting medication. The medication causes a rash, and the muggy conditions on the hike exacerbated the rash until he developed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, or MRSA.
Casterline said the infection took a toll on him, exhausting him and making climbing the hills nearly impossible.
The infection returned three times and became worse each time. Stopping for medical treatment and cleansing showers at hotels no longer helped stave it off.
On July 24, Casterline had no choice but to quit, hitchhiking his way to a hospital 50 miles away where he spent 10 days before returning to Orlando, where a surgeon removed the infected portion of his abdomen.
But Casterline is determined to finish the trek, armed with new lotions and medications to stave off infections.
Casterline plans to start hiking in June 2012, making up miles he skipped earlier this year because of snowfall. He will pick up at about the 1,500-mile mark and finish the final 900 miles to the Canadian border. He also hopes to collect the rest of his $26,560 goal.
Casterline credits his supporters, including his Cortland High School classmates who donated $3,000 toward the cause.
“It is absolutely mind-blowing, incredible they collected that from my class alone,” Casterline said.
Casterline visited Cortland Thursday to see friends he could not catch up with because he missed his 50th high school reunion in August.
Michael Colasurdo, a lifelong friend, said Casterline’s enthusiasm for fighting cancer is amazing.
“Everything he does now, his life is centered around raising money for cancer,” Colasurdo said, calling Casterline’s optimistic outlook on life and ability to overcome his three separate cancer diagnoses “unbelievable.”
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