Teams battle cancer at Blaine Relay for Life

Karl Pope, of Coon Rapids, has celebrated three birthdays. That’s not his age, but the number of years since doctors informed him his neck cancer had been cleared.

While Pope wore the color purple to signify this achievement at the July 18-19 Relay for Life walk at Blaine High School, he is still battling cancer. About a year-and-a-half ago, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He quickly had surgery to remove the tumor, but is still having chemotherapy treatments every three weeks.

Pat Kallio and Brenda Price make a lap around the Blaine High School track. Photos by Eric Hagen

Pat Kallio and Brenda Price make a lap around the Blaine High School track. Photos by Eric Hagen

Through all of this, the American Cancer Society has been there for him, so he was more than happy to be part of his first Relay for Life anywhere at this Blaine event when his daughter Allison suggested it following her participating in one last year.

“I think it’s a great event,” Pope said.

Two dozen teams joined forces in the fight against cancer at Blaine High School. These teams were made up of about 200 people who each knew someone who has been impacted by this disease. It is indeed hard to go through life without knowing one affected person.

For 12 hours Friday evening, July 18 through Saturday morning, July 19, the teams walked the track at Blaine High School, occasionally taking breaks to reflect with their friends and family or to share their stories with others. Many teams had names that paid homage to people who had or have cancer.

According to Marlene Goble, of the American Cancer Society, the Blaine Relay for Life raised about $40,000. The goal was $50,000. You can still donate before ACS’ relay season ends Aug. 31. Visit www.relayforlife.org to make a donation.

During a ceremony at 7 p.m., Joseph Jensen shared his story of beating testicular cancer. The New Brighton native now lives in Colorado, but made a special trip to Blaine to be part of a friend’s Relay for Life team that was sponsored by Target.

Jensen was at work April 20, 2012 when his doctor called to tell him he had cancer.

“When they say you have cancer, everything after that is like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher,” Jensen said, imitating the incomprehensible speech.

He sat at his desk for maybe 45 minutes after he hung up the phone, still in shock. He went to his boss’ office to break the bad news. Then the tears started rolling down his cheeks. He then had to tell his parents, which was even tougher because he had to tell them this was something out of their control.

After surgery six days later, he underwent a month-and-a-half of intense chemotherapy five days a week. After finishing his treatment, he still had three agonizing months of waiting before his doctor confirmed he was cancer free.

This experience made Jensen keenly aware of his own mortality and that he must enjoy life to its fullest. He loved reading about the French explorer Jacques Cousteau and swore to seek out his own adventures.

He became a certified scuba diver. His first dive was amongst the sharks at SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium at the Mall of America. He dove off the coast of South Africa, a Great White Shark circling him and bumping into the shark cage he was in. Jensen and two friends won an Epic Season Pass from the Vail Resorts Management Company by visiting all 26 resorts in four countries.

“(Cancer) changed me. I’ll never be the same again,” he said.

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

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