Just two weeks after completing an Ironman triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky, St. Louisian Teri Griege received unthinkable news. At age 48, she was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. That was in 2009. After surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and two recurrences, she now has been stable for two-and-a-half years and is dedicated to spreading awareness about the disease. “After I received my diagnosis, one of my sisters decided to have her first colonoscopy, and they discovered she had stage III cancer,” Griege says. “I call myself an accidental advocate because my experience helped save my sister’s life.”
Griege’s advocacy is no longer accidental. She’s joined the fight against cancer with the same determination she brings to being an endurance athlete. “Right away, I wanted to give back both locally and nationally,” she recalls. Here in St. Louis, she is on the board for Pedal the Cause and rides annually to benefit research at Siteman Cancer Center and Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She’s also a board member for Fight Colorectal Cancer (CRC), a national advocacy organization.
Through her work with Fight CRC, Griege found herself taking on a new challenge: climbing a mountain—literally. One of the nonprofit’s largest annual events is Climb for a Cure. “It was started to raise awareness and to honor courageous cancer survivors through a physical and mental challenge,” Griege explains. From just three climbers at the first event in 2015, it grew to more than 150 people scaling a 14er (a mountain with a peak of at least 14,000 feet) in Colorado last year.
Griege learned about Climb for a Cure after attending another event for Fight CRC. While sharing her story with others, she talked about being an endurance athlete and was asked whether she would be interested in getting involved. She immediately agreed. “It was daunting because I didn’t have climbing experience, but I knew it would be a big personal accomplishment and a great way to raise money for an important cause,” she says. “That first climb was amazing. There were 28 of us in 2018, and at the summit, we formed a circle and held hands. It was a very moving moment.”
This year, Griege planned to participate in her third Climb for a Cure at Lake Tahoe, but like so many events, the pandemic forced Fight CRC to switch to a virtual format. Instead of scaling a mountain together, people were invited to complete their own physical challenges Aug. 15, with a combined goal to reach 1 million steps to represent the 1 million colorectal cancer survivors living in the U.S.
While St. Louis didn’t offer any peaks for Griege to scale, she didn’t let that deter her. She opted to complete her own triathlon of sorts, swimming 2 miles, running 5 kilometers and biking 50 miles on the event day. The 5K was especially meaningful because she was joined by three other stage IV colorectal cancer survivors. “It was a great way to mark the day and honor others who have fought this disease,” she says. “We were able to bring together friends and family while still being socially distant.”
Climb for a Cure 2020 was a success. More than 850 cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones from 47 states participated, raising more than $250,000. And that million step goal? In total, more than 10 million steps were taken. “It was a great chance to raise awareness and educate people,” Griege notes. “Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer and the third most commonly diagnosed. The symptoms may be embarrassing, but people need to be unafraid to seek help. If caught early, this disease is preventable, treatable and beatable.”
Pictured at top: Griege (center left) joined other local stage IV colorectal cancer suvivors for this year’s Climb for a Cure.