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DL counselor is Relay torchbearer

DETROIT LAKES - For the last seven years, Janell Girodat has lived with cancer. But that doesn't mean it has taken over her life or that she doesn't put up a good fight each and every day. And people are noticing.

Girodat, of Kindred, has been chosen as the torchbearer for this year's Becker County Relay for Life, scheduled for Friday.

"Her name was brought up and we had heard what an inspiration she was to the high school kids," Relay for Life organizer Michelle Bjorgan said. Even though Girodat was sick, she came to work and showed she is a hard worker, Bjorgan added.

Early in the summer of 2001, Girodat went to the doctor with a sore arm.

"They found a lump, but didn't think it was cancerous. I was 'too young.' I was 33 at the time," she said.

At the same time, her mother, who had lung cancer, had been given six months to a year to live. Girodat, who commutes 144 miles daily and works as a counselor at Detroit Lakes High School, insisted on a biopsy.

On June 6, she went in for a biopsy. On June 8, her doctor called her.

"I had breast cancer that had spread to my lymph system," she said. "It's been quite the whirlwind."

Whirlwind doesn't quite cover it.

She went through 23 rounds of chemotherapy, had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by 25 rounds of radiology.

In December of 2003, it was Christmas Eve and Girodat developed a cough. She had the cough for two weeks, and was diagnosed with cancer again. This time it was in the fluid around her left lung and the tissue of her chest.

She treated the cancer with oral medications, and on July 14, she had surgery to fuse her lung to her chest so there couldn't be any liquid in that area.

Then in 2005, she found she had lung cancer. She had a tumor on the bottom of her left lung and it had spread to her liver. She had treatment again from December through July 2006.

Then, last summer, she developed another cough and was leery since she had experienced it in the past. Doctors told her it was allergies and not to worry.

In December, she was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer again.

She is treating it with oral chemo now. She's really tired, she said, but at least she's growing some of her hair back again.

Once she's completed the oral treatment, doctors will determine if she has to have traditional chemo.

"I hope not." She said. "It makes me more sick."

Although Girodat has had cancer come back twice while working at DLHS, she has worked every day that she doesn't have chemo treatments. She and her husband also have three children, who keep her plenty occupied.

Over the last four years at the high school, Girodat has seen lots of support. One student, Andy Shrupp, cut his hair short before an assembly of students and donated the money to Girodat. Another student, Janaye Johnson, filmed a documentary on Girodat's experience and ended up taking first place in the school's first film festival.

"Even though I don't live here, it's been great," Girodat said of the support she's seen at the high school and community.

"It's great to see kids come together for a common goal," she added, and not just for her, but for other students within the school system that have been sick.

She hopes Johnson's documentary can bring understanding to students, and adults alike, about cancer, treatment and the emotions that go along with it.

As for her next event, Girodat said she has participated in Relay for Life in the past, taking the survivor's lap and the caregiver's lap, but "I was really surprised" when she was asked to serve as torchbearer this year. As torchbearer, she will begin the lighting of the luminaries.

"This means a lot to me. People know me, but I don't know them," she said of the surprise of being asked to carry out the duty. "I really appreciate it. It should be fun."

After four rounds of cancer, Girodat names off dates as if they are etched in her mind, which they more than likely are, but it's also something she's talked about over and over as well.

"To me it's not a big deal because I've been doing it for seven years," she said. "In the end, you do what you have to do. You keep going and not worry. You do what you've got to do."

Relay for Life schedule

Friday, June 20

- 4:30-7 p.m. -- community dinner and silent auction in the Detroit Lakes High School commons area.

- 6:30-8 p.m. -- survivor reception at the DLHS track.

- 8 p.m. -- program at the DLHS track.

- 10 p.m. -- luminaria lighting ceremony at the DLHS track.

For more information, visit the Becker County Relay for Life site at