Karl Hoidal, 17, endured almost a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments remembering the finest times of his life were spent enjoying the great outdoors.
"I wanted to hunt, fish and cut wood again," he said. "I couldn't do those things that I missed so much."
The Potlatch, Idaho teenager was diagnosed April 16, 2004 with Hodgkin's Lymphoma -- a cancer of the immune system that primarily attacks the lymph glands.
Hodgkin's is treated with radiation and chemotherapy, but most doctors agree that keeping the patient's spirits up is a key to overcoming the disease.
That's where Karl's love of the outdoors became his best ally.
"I've always been an avid hunter, and so when I was (undergoing treatments) I would think about those things rather than the cancer," he said.
Television also played a role in his recovery.
"He and his dad (Brian) would watch the Outdoor Channel and all those hunting and fishing shows together," Hoidal's mom, Juli, said. "Karl couldn't get out, so the TV programs were good for him."
Karl's inability to spend time outdoors was particularly tough in that he was raised to live life to the fullest in one of the most pristine areas of the country.
Potlatch, located 65 miles south of Spokane, Wash., is a land of deep pine forests, grassy meadows, clear rivers and babbling mountain streams.
A Potlatch Web site says the community "provides excellent accommodations for hunting, fishing, camping and other recreational activities."
As Karl's arduous cancer treatments wore on, he anxiously waited for the time when he could return to the outdoors.
Then, a unique opportunity presented itself to the family.
"While he was being treated, some friends told us about ‘Hunt of a Lifetime,' which takes kids with cancer hunting and fishing," Juli said. "So, we began trying to find out more about it."
The Hoidals learned that Hunt of a Lifetime was begun by Tina Pattison after her 19-year-old son, Matthew, realized his dream of going on a moose hunt in Canada before he died of Hodgkin's Disease in 1998.
The mission of Hunt of a Lifetime, a nonprofit organization, is to grant hunting and fishing adventures and dreams to those ages 21 and under who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.
Tina Pattison said the foundation was dedicated "to my son Matt and the life he lived loving the outdoors to the fullest, and passing on to others what hunting and fishing meant to him."
The thought of Karl returning to the outdoors after months of cancer treatment sent Juli and Brian scrambling to fill out Hunt of a Lifetime applications.
It wasn't long before the Hoidals received a reply from the foundation that said Karl had been selected to participate in an Arizona hunt.
However, the first one scheduled conflicted with a commitment he had made to show farm animals he raised in the state fair.
Finally, Terry Petco of Phoenix, the Arizona Ambassador for Hunt of a Lifetime, arranged for Karl to receive a Unit 22 bull elk tag transfer from Matt Rundo of Phoenix.
It was Petco who had earlier helped push a bill through the Arizona legislature that allowed tag holders to transfer hunt privileges to charitable organizations such as Hunt of a Lifetime.
"The governor signed it on April 1 (2004)," Petco said. "It took us two years to get it (into law)."
With the tag transfer from Rundo to Karl complete, Petco set about scheduling a hunt.
Among his first Rim Country contacts was Bob DePugh of Payson who was going to transfer a deer tag he had drawn to Hunt of a Lifetime.
What Petco didn't realize is that DePugh would become invaluable in helping Karl realize his dream.
"Bob was great. He did so much up there (in Payson)," Petco said. "He was able to get a lot of people to pitch in and help out."
For DePugh, the task was a labor of love.
"Karl is such a great kid and we are all happy for him," he said. "To do something for a good young man like that was unbelievable."
With Petco, DePugh and a host of others working hand in hand, Karl arrived in Payson Dec. 9 primed and ready for his first bull elk hunt.
The adventure began at a camp, north of Payson set up by Rim Rock Outfitters' Randy and Josh Epperson.
On the very first day, just after breakfast, the Eppersons stalked and glassed a 6-by-4 bull elk a few miles off Control Road.
It wasn't long before the teen downed the animal with his 30-06-caliber rifle.
"The hunt was everything I dreamed of when I was sick," Karl said. "It was exciting."
With the elk down, preparations began to process the meat and prepare it for a return trip to the Hoidal home in Potlach.
Pat Fogarty of Hot Shot meat cutters was among those DePugh had asked to pitch in and help with the benefit hunt.
It wasn't long before Fogarty had the meat processed and ready for shipment.
In addition to Karl enjoying many meals of lip-smacking elk roasts, the teen says he is looking forward to the arrival of a head mount that will proudly be displayed in the family home.
Following the hunt, the family spent the remainder of their time in Payson enjoying sites they might never have been able to visit -- including the Grand Canyon -- had it not been for Hunt of a Lifetime and the Rim Country volunteers.
"Hunt of a Lifetime and all the wonderful people in Payson did it all for us," Juli said. "It was awesome.
"To think that so many people did so much to help Karl is unbelievable."
Following the family's seven-day stay in the Rim Country, the three left Payson Dec. 13 to catch a flight out of Phoenix Sky Harbor that would return them to their Idaho home. Once there, Karl will continue his senior year at Potlach High School.
During those late night homework sessions, the teen might be excused if his mind sometimes wanders from algebra and American history.
He might be reliving a Rim Country adventure that was once only a dream.
"That dream kept me going through it all and then everyone did so much to help make it come true," he said.
Before leaving, the Hoidals said they wanted to issue a heartfelt thank-you to all those in Payson who contributed to Karl's adventure.
They include Bob DePugh, Rim Rock Outfitters, Sharon Owens, Jeff Vaughn, Scott Crabdree, Pat Fogarty, Kyle and Lynette Parker, Roy and Marie Haught, Mark Kile and the Tonto Apache Tribe.