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Relay for Life is Friday

"You have cancer."

Nothing can prepare you for hearing those three words from your doctor -- even when it's already happened to someone close to you.

"It was a big shock," said Evonne Anderson, who was diagnosed with Fallopian tube cancer early this year.

"I was a little better prepared this time, because we'd already gone through it once," she said, referring to her husband, Tom, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago. "But that didn't make it less of a shock."

Still, the couple decided to deal with the disease the same way they had the first time: Head on.

"Our mode of operation was to find out everything we could about it, and what we needed to do (to fight it)," she said.

In Evonne's case, treatment involved first surgery, then a series of 24 chemotherapy treatments at the Roger Maris Center in Fargo. With just six of those treatments left, she expects to be finished with chemotherapy in December.

"I'm doing much better now," she said, noting that the first 12 treatments had been more frequent -- sometimes even weekly -- and therefore, more exhausting. "I needed to have (blood) transfusions because my cell count was so low. It took a lot out of me."

Now, however, she only has to have treatment once every 28 days, which gives her body a little bit more recovery time.

In fact, she's feeling so much better that when she was contacted by Michelle Bjorgan, one of the organizers for this year's Becker County Relay for Life, about the possibility of being a torchbearer, she agreed.

So did Tom.

"It's a worthy cause," he said. "You never really beat cancer -- you survive it.

As such, he and Evonne will be taking the first lap around the Detroit Lakes High School track for the annual Relay, which gets underway this Friday, June 23, with an 8 p.m. opening ceremony.

Though understandably a little nervous about participating in their first Relay, the Andersons have nevertheless gotten into the spirit of the event, raising over $1,600 in pledges.

"Our family and friends have been very supportive," Yvonne said. In fact, she says there have been "three F's" that have sustained her throughout her cancer diagnosis and treatment: "Faith, family and friends. That's what gets you through pretty much everything."

The Andersons, both former teachers at Lake Park-Audubon High School, are currently retired and make their home in Audubon. Their son, Todd, daughter-in-law Stephanie and grandchildren Sophia, 9 and Olivia, 7, make their home in Fairport, N.Y.

Though Friday's Relay officially gets underway at 8 p.m., several other events are planned in conjunction with the annual American Cancer Society fund-raiser.

There will be a community dinner (free will offering) and silent auction from 4:30-7 p.m. in the Detroit Lakes High School Commons. Then, at 7:30 p.m., all cancer survivors are invited to a reception where they can sign up for a free "cancer survivor" t-shirt and enjoy cake and beverages before the opening ceremonies get underway.

According to Bjorgan, the opening ceremonies will include an introduction of local cancer survivors, who will be invited to join the Andersons on a "victory lap" around the track. Then, the members of each team will be introduced.

"We have 25 teams signed up," Bjorgan said. Each team averages between 10-15 members, although some are smaller.

"With all the committee and team members, volunteers and survivors, there should be 400-500 people there," Bjorgan said.

Then, at 10 p.m., just as the sun slips below the horizon, the Andersons will be called upon once again to light up the luminaria.

Each luminary has been purchased in honor or in memory of a loved one whose life has been touched by cancer. The Andersons said they have 60 luminaries in their home that have been purchased by friends and family for the occasion.

Walkers will continue to make laps around the candlelit track throughout the night.

Bjorgan said that while the lighting of the luminaries is a special sight, so too is the view of the track when the sun begins to rise again in the morning.

"It's a sign of hope," she said. "You need to experience that in order to get the whole picture of why this is an overnight event."

The public is welcome to participate in the Relay, either as a spectator or as a walker.

"You do not need to pre-register for anything," Bjorgan added (aside from the t-shirts that are given to Relay team members, which need to be pre-ordered).

Throughout the evening, walkers will also be entertained by the music of Sister Act.

One other feature has been added to the Relay this year: The Wall of Hope. This large banner will be available for both Relay participants and members of the public to sign throughout the night. After the Relay is completed, the banner will be displayed at area businesses through mid-August. Each business that has signed up for the privilege will be able to display the banner for 1-2 days. (Interested businesses should contact Bjorgan at 218-238-5037.)

Then, in mid-August, the banner will be shipped to Washington, D.C., where it will be joined with about 500 other banners from across the country as part of a four-block Wall of Hope that will be displayed at a special Celebration on the Hill event in September, in conjunction with the National Relay for Life.

Bjorgan said she just received notification this week that she has been accepted to represent the state of Minnesota at the Celebration on the Hill event, as Minnesota volunteer coordinator.

"It's been my dream to go to this event," she said. "It's so exciting."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454