For more than a year now, Tracy Delp has been reminding people that the first three letters in "cancer" are "can."
To do this, Delp, her horse Sierra and dog Ursa have been making a tour called Coast 2 Coast for Cancer, during which they have met with people and raised money for the cause.
"(We're) focusing on what we can do," Delp said. "I figure if this old lady can ride a horse across the country, you can do anything. You may not like what you're told, or what you're diagnosed with… but you can do it. You can face it."
Delp brought this message to the Vermillion area Friday, July 27, when she stopped for an overnight rest at the rodeo grounds in Clay County Park.
She plans to make it to Delaware by October.
Delp embarked on this journey in honor of her mother Millie – who survived colon cancer only to be struck down with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer years later – and two of her dogs.
"Watching (my mother's) courage and composure made me very aware that a person can do anything, that there is always a choice even when you think there are none," Delp said in a press release on her Web site.
A long-time outfitter, Delp thought this would be the perfect way to share her message and raise money, either for people, for animals or for the trip itself.
She and her companions began their journey May 8, 2011, when they left Ocean City, WA.
"I had a guy named Dan Shanafelt riding with me," said Delp, who lives in Port Orchard, WA. "He was 23. And when we got to Idaho he decided he didn't want to continue."
The trip was re-planned over the next two or three months.
"The original route was 5,000 miles, and I realized I had to make it as short as possible," Delp said.
She stopped again in November due to inclement weather, right after she reached Montana. She picked up the reins once more this April after the snow had melted, and has no plans to stop again.
"I've been on the road since," she said. "I won't turn back until I get to Delaware."
Each day begins when Delp rises near 3-3:30 a.m. and feeds Sierra. She usually is riding by 6 or 7, because of the ongoing heat wave.
"I need to be done by noon. I can't ride past noon," she said. "The other day we were out until 4 p.m. because the way I'm doing it, I don't have the option to just stop. I've got to get to where I'm going. That was a killer, with the humidity."
The trip may be hardest on Ursa, who walks nearby tethered to a leash. Fortunately, she wears a special coat designed to keep her cool.
"All along I've said, 'I'm not going to kill my animals to do this. They're worth more to me than that,'" Delp said.
Delp also has access to her truck and horse trailer, which is most often driven to her stopover points by people she encounters along the way to her destination.
"I've actually had a couple of offers for this next leg," she said Friday. "I've only had to hitchhike twice, which is pretty crazy for 1,300 miles."
Overall, the trip has gone well, although you can't plan for everything, Delp said.
"There is a huge learning curve," she said. "It's funny because you anticipate things. Before I got into a state I'll look up what are the toxic animals, but if you ever told me I'd walk over the top of a rattlesnake, I never would have believed that."
This particular incident occurred north of Rapid City.
"When I heard it rattle I was already over the top of it," Delp said. "I ride with eight-foot reins and a big popper, and it spooked me. I must have jerked, because that popper hit me on the ankle.
"I got a few steps out and I sat and looked at my leg and I thought, 'I don't think I got bit," she said.
The weather is another aspect for which she could not plan.
"I've been waiting for three weeks for it to cool off," Delp said. "I finally thought, 'Just face it. It's not going to cool off.'"
But she has gotten used to it, in a way, after having spent so much time outside.
"I found if I go to someone's home, it's actually harder on me the next day," she said. "If I can stay in the heat I do better than if I go in and come out."
A more pleasant surprise is the consistently positive response Delp receives from the people she meets.
"People step up pretty fast when they find out what I'm doing, and more than anything people want to help," she said. "People want to do something. They want to take part in something, and I think we've been conditioned to think that it's got to be on a grand scale.
"But for me to have a place to put my horse where she isn't tied to something, that's a big deal. A shower? A shower is a big deal," she said.
And thanks to the publicity she has received through her Web site and social networking, Delp said she has found friendly people everywhere.
This kind of support is exactly what people who are fighting cancer should receive, she said.
"You can't let fear dictate what you're going to do," she said. "You can say, 'OK, what am I going to do?' and take your power back. You just do it. You might have some choices to make, but you just do it.
"We always hear about the bad people, but I'll tell you what," she said. "I've had three since I left Ocean City that were questionable. That's it. And for the amount of people I've had contact with, that's pretty amazing."
Delp said she is grateful for everyone she has met, and everyone who has made a donation through her Web site – no matter the size.
"Someone said, 'What would you say if I only gave $2?'" Delp said. "I would say, 'Thank you.'"
For more information about Coast 2 Coast for Cancer, visit http://coast2coastforcancer.webs.com.