Rain floods fairgrounds, can’t drown efforts to fight cancer

Lightning crackled through the gray-green sky and thunder roared a vicious warning as rain pounded on the Anoka County Fairgrounds where the Anoka Area Relay for Life set up camp the evening of June 21.More than 280 people had pitched tents, placed luminaria and pledged their determination to team-up and “finish the fight.”

Survivors take a ceremonial first lap during the June 21 Anoka Area Relay for Life. Holding the banner are (left-right) Renee Miller (colon cancer), David Jeffrey (pancreatic), Sarina Greskowiak (ovarian) and Taylor Fournier (Hodgkins lymphoma). Photos by Sue Austreng

Survivors take a ceremonial first lap during the June 21 Anoka Area Relay for Life. Holding the banner are (left-right) Renee Miller (colon cancer), David Jeffrey (pancreatic), Sarina Greskowiak (ovarian) and Taylor Fournier (Hodgkins lymphoma). Photos by Sue Austreng

Ceremonial laps for survivors, caregivers and “super heroes fighting cancer” had been completed and luminaria glowed in the darkening sky, but by 8:30 p.m., the track had to be cleared.

“We had lightning and we just couldn’t risk it. We kept checking radar and saw it all around us. We had to clear the track,” said relay co-chairwoman Kim Gust.

Still, pledges, silent auction items, food sales and other fundraisers brought in nearly the entire $60,000 organizers had hoped to raise during the annual American Cancer Society event.

Twenty-eight teams, totaling 285 people, took part in the abbreviated Anoka Area Relay for Life, which began at 5 p.m. and was scheduled to end at 5 a.m.

Something like 150 silent auction items (organized and presented by the Anoka Women of Today) and the first-ever fake cake wars were waged inside one of the fairgrounds buildings. Both those events brought in money toward the relay’s total donation as did fundraisers set up at each team’s campsite.

During the opening ceremony, honorary cancer survivor Renee Miller talked about her fight with stage 4 colon cancer and her nine years with the Relay for Life.

Miller then described the purpose of the relay.

“This morning I attended a celebration of life for a 25-year-old woman who lost her battle … That’s why we’re here – to finish the fight, to make sure no one else loses that battle,” Miller said. “Thank you for being here. Thank you for fighting.”

Even with the threat of severe weather shortening the Anoka Area Relay for Life, Gust called it a success.

“Considering we had to rush everything I think it was still a good event,” she said. “We’ll be out again next year, the third Friday in June, 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.”

This year’s Anoka Area Relay for Life donations can still be made through Aug. 31.

For more information on how to make a donation, email anokarelay@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, the local fight against cancer continued June 24 when volunteers took part in the American Cancer Society CPS-3 (Cancer Prevention Study, part three) at Faith Lutheran Church, Coon Rapids.

Anyone between 30 and 65 years old who has never been diagnosed with cancer could take part in the study and, according to Gust, the Anoka Area Relay for Life had the highest number of participants across Minnesota.

“And Minnesota could be the number one enrollment site in the nation,” said CPS-3 spokeswoman Marlene Goble, encouraging enrollment during the June 21 relay.

The study, an American Cancer Society grass roots effort, gives community members an opportunity to support cancer research with the goal of learning how to prevent cancer.

“We have the opportunity to help prevent cancer – who doesn’t want to be part of that?” said Goble.

At the church June 24, CPS-3 participants read and signed a consent form, completed a brief written survey, provided physical measurements and gave a small blood sample.

“My mom is a two-time cancer survivor and I’m doing everything I can to make sure my children don’t ever have to say that … I really, really believe this is part of the answer,” said one CPS-3 enrollee.

To learn more about CPS-3, visit www.cancer.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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