Rallying against cancer at relay

Not since the 2010 event have the clouds parted and the rain stopped for the Blaine Relay for Life.

The Sgt. John Rice VFW of Blaine led the cancer survivors lap. Photos by Eric Hagen

The Sgt. John Rice VFW of Blaine led the cancer survivors lap. Photos by Eric Hagen

While the wind made it difficult to get some tents up, this year’s July 12-13 event at the Blaine High School track turned out well with 149 participants on 22 teams raising $46,338.94 for the American Cancer Society efforts to fight cancer. It started waging the war against this deadly disease 100 years ago and while humans have yet to find cures to all types of cancer, significant advances in the medical field have been made.

“A hundred years ago, cancer diagnosis was a death sentence,” said Leslie Pendergast, one of two co-chairpersons for this year’s Blaine Relay for Life event. “Today, two out of three are surviving and celebrating more birthdays.”

Cancer survivor Sue Thorson told the walkers that their support helps find cures so others do not have to hear a doctor tell them, “You have cancer.”

Thorson and Gavin Pierson, who is only seven years old, told their stories of fighting cancer during the opening ceremony before other cancer survivors, caregivers and supporters took turns walking on the Blaine High School track.

Jody Roe of Blaine has walked in every Blaine Relay for Life for the past 12 years, but this was her last time participating so she was snapping a lot of photos to cherish the memories of walking with her family’s team called Rosie’s Kids that honors her mother who died at the age of 50 in 1995 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Roe said a Relay for Life event is a “very emotional tearjerker,” but it’s also “a fun way to get the family together and remember a loved one.”

She remembers her mother being a very outgoing and goofy person who had a lot of friends, according to Roe.

Her pastor commented that he had never seen so many people at a funeral before, Roe said.

Amber Buchman of Fridley and Lindsey Freeman of Elk River started a business called Old to Bold that wraps old wine and beer bottles in yarn to create a decorative ornament. Proceeds from their business are being donated to the American Cancer Society.

Both were walking in memory of grandparents who lost their battles. Freeman’s grandfather James is now fighting bladder cancer and his son Jim beat cancer five years ago.

They formed the team Walkie Talkies to participate in the Blaine Relay for Life for the first time this year.

“It’s nice to see so many care and are putting effort toward the cause and not just seeing it on television or reading about it in the paper,” said another team member named Mike Gisborn of Mounds View, who lost his grandfather Kenny Carlisle to liver cancer in 2001.

This was the second year that Coon Rapids residents Deb Fuller and Robin Miller have participated in the Blaine Relay for Life. Fuller’s father Vern’s prostate cancer had gone away 11 years ago after he had his prostate removed and underwent further treatment, but it came back six months ago. He is 82 years old.

Miller’s mother Lorraine died in 1983 from multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, which is a type of white blood cell located in bone marrow.

They were two of six people on the Blazin’ Hearts team that included their daughters and two co-workers from Medtronic.

Miller had such a positive experience last year that she volunteered to be on the event organizing committee this year.

Most of the event takes on a festive atmosphere as people recognize survivors and remember the loved ones lost, but it gets completely silent and somber when the luminary bags were lit at dusk to honor those who lost their battles.

“I got chills,” Fuller said.

The Fridley Woman of Today organized a team of nine for this year’s relay, which officially began 5 p.m. July 12. Darryl Cuddy of Arden Hills has walked at this event for a few years for his wife Kris Ruble, who officially became a breast cancer survivor in February 2011. She was first diagnosed in October 2009 when a doctor found the lymph node when running tests because of blood clot in her leg. She underwent treatment for 18 months before she was considered cancer free.

Survivors note how many years they are cancer free by saying how many “birthdays” they have had, so Ruble has celebrated two birthdays. Blaine resident Martha Caouette said she has celebrated 40 birthdays. As she was talking about this accomplishment, a butterfly was perched on her hand after the survivors had released a group of them. Caouette said this was a sign of good luck.

“When I was five, I said to a kid anything is possible and you should never give up,” said the six-year-old Pierson, who was found with a brain tumor last year and was able to go through a clinical Pfizer drug trial to get treated.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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