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School, community rally behind teacher

Students at Detroit Lakes Middle School showed their support for ailing teacher Michelle Harris on Friday, Feb. 27, by wearing her favorite color ? purple.

This past Friday, Feb. 27, the hallways and classrooms of Detroit Lakes Middle School were a veritable sea of purple.

It wasn't because the school had changed its official colors, or instituted some weird new dress code: Instead, the students, staff and faculty were wearing purple because it was the favorite color of DLMS teacher Michelle Harris.

Friday was designated as "Michelle's Day," to show support for Harris, who was diagnosed with colon cancer on Feb. 18.

According to information available on Harris's Caring Bridge Web site, Harris first became aware there was a problem when she was recuperating from a fractured rib, which was diagnosed on Jan. 30. While on a two-week leave from her teaching position, she noticed a sharp pain in her abdomen.

Her daughter took her into the urgent care department at MeritCare Clinic in Detroit Lakes on Feb. 16. While performing tests, the hospital staff recommended that she be transferred to MeritCare in Fargo for further examination.

After further tests and consistent pain, Harris learned that masses had developed on her colon and pancreas, and there were lesions on her liver as well.

Late in the afternoon of Feb 18, she was officially diagnosed with colon cancer. The cancer had also infected a large portion of her liver and a portion of her pancreas.

"She came home last night," said close friend Trish Klingsporn, who is a teacher at Rossman Elementary School in Detroit Lakes.

Klingsporn -- who noted that she and Harris had been longtime friends who first began to bond when their daughters competed in Sunfish and high school swimming competitions together -- said there had been no real indication prior to Harris's hospitalization that she was suffering from a serious illness.

"We talk quite of us always seems to sense whenever the other is having a bad day," she said.

But since her diagnosis, Harris has remained very upbeat, Klingsporn added.

"Her spirits are really good, and she looks great," she said, adding, "She's Michelle...She's a very special lady."

Klingsporn said that she and another close friend, Sue Borstad, had been up to visit Harris in Fargo three times since she was first hospitalized on Feb. 16.

"We were up there on Tuesday night, and we stayed a long time," she added.

Harris's friends and family aren't the only ones who have rallied support behind her, as this past Friday's "Wear Purple" Day showed. Messages have also been pouring into her Caring Bridge Web site -- filling more than 12 pages of entries in her guestbook.

"Michelle, you are the sunshine in so many lives... Trust in God, and rely on your friends. We are all here for you...," wrote Lori Velde.

"With all the joy and love you bring to those around you, let others now provide the same to you," wrote Stacy Martin.

"I know that you are very strong, and your upbeat personality and faith will guide you through these days," wrote Madalyn Sukke.

A daily journal, including updates on Harris's condition, is also available at the Caring Bridge site, (type in the letters michelleharris1).

A fund for donations toward Harris's expenses has also been set up at Wells Fargo Bank in Detroit Lakes. Please direct contributions to: The Michelle Harris Fund, c/o Wells Fargo Banks, P.O. Box 786, 211 Holmes Street West Detroit Lakes, MN 56502.

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