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Local women put together first ever breast/ovarian cancer race in DL

ovarian cancer survivor Kathy Nienhueser (Lessman's mother) sits with her sister, Joan Oliverius, who died from breast cancer two years ago.1 / 3
simply pink truly teal creators Jessica Peterson (left) and Jenny Lessman are launching a campaign to fight breast and ovarian cancer, and they're kicking it off with the city's first Breast and Ovarian Cancer Race May 7 beginning at the Detroit Lakes City Park.2 / 3
Peterson's mother, Mary Jasch (left) is a one-year breast cancer survivor, while her aunt, Margaret McDougall, is a six year cancer survivor.3 / 3

When Detroit Lakes women Jenny Lessman and Jessica Peterson learned their mothers had cancer, they didn't lie down and cry (at least for long) ... they stood up and began fighting.

They're bringing their entire community along for the fight as well, as they prepare to launch Detroit Lakes' very first "Breast and Ovarian Cancer Race," set for the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend.

"Just about everybody you talk to knows somebody who's had some sort of cancer," said Peterson, as Lessman adds, "and when you hit somebody on a personal chord it makes a big difference."

The inspiration for starting this race comes from the cancer-fighting women in the ladies' lives, but the idea comes from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure down in the Twin Cities.

"We ran in that last summer, and it did so well that we thought we'd try something like that here," said Lessman.

But while the Susan G. Komen race concentrates on breast cancer, Peterson and Lessman decided to place "ovarian cancer" in their cross-hairs as well.

Lessman is a physician's assistant in Sanford Health's OBGYN department and sees first-hand how ovarian cancer so quietly sneaks up on women.

"It is often deadly by the time you find it," she said.

Lessman's mother, Kathy Nienhueser, escaped the deadly grip of ovarian cancer, as just a few weeks she was discharged from the oncology department.

"I was stage 3 and I had almost no symptoms," said Nienhueser. Nienhueser's only sister, Joan, was not as lucky.

Breast cancer took her life two years ago.

"I know my sister saved my life and maybe others because we got tested for a hereditary cancerous gene after that, which many in our family have tested positive for," said Nienhueser, "and because of that we've been able to take preemptive measures."

Meanwhile, Peterson's mother, Mary Jasch of Detroit Lakes, is a breast cancer survivor thanks to a mammogram that detected the disease while it was still in stage one.

Jasch is brought to tears, not by her cancer, but by her daughter's initiative to help fight it.

"I am just so proud of what she's doing (with the race)," Jasch said, "to know that she's there supporting her mother and helping others who have to deal with this."

But like most mothers, Jasch's pride is accompanied by worry.

"When you hear the word 'cancer' it's hard on everybody, and I worry, too, what her chances are of getting this," Jasch said.

Neither Peterson or Lessman are waiting to find out.

Both women get screened regularly and last year each had lumpectomies, a procedure to remove pre-cancerous cells from the breast area.

"We call ourselves "pre-vivors," laughs Lessman.

The determined duo want to turn this first-ever race into an annual event, and then take it a step further. Their ultimate goal is to one day turn their "Simply Pink Truly Teal" movement into a full-blown non-profit foundation.

"It would benefit local ladies that will help them get their testing paid for," said Lessman, "because it's heartbreaking to see them leave the clinic when you know that they can't afford their testing or their follow-up or biopsies or labs they need to screen it or catch it early."

Meanwhile, Lessman and Peterson have their hands full putting the race together.

Participants are not asked to raise money, but simply pay a registration fee of $15 per person before May 1 and $20 the day of the race. Money raised will be split up, with part going towards the Susan G. Komen foundation and the rest going to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo "because we know that if they find a cure for breast cancer, the cure for other cancers are sure to come fast, so we do want to support all types," said Lessman.

Participants will have the option of a 5-K run and a 5-K walk which start at the city park, go out to the Holiday Inn and back, or a 10-mile race that goes around the lake.

The race starts at 9 a.m. at the city park, with registration going from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.

Lessman and Peterson say they were initially just hoping to get enough runners to put the event on, but the community support they've seen promises a good turnout.

"The response from the community has really been overwhelming; we already have 35 sponsors for money and all kinds of donations," said Lessman.

The women say there will be prizes for the top three winners, both in the women's category and men's.

All participants will get a t-shirt and race bag filled with area business coupons, as well as donated bagels, fruit, coffee and water. "And all mothers and cancer survivors participating in the race will be honored with a flower as they cross the finish-line," Lessman said.

And while Lessman's aunt cannot physically be at the race, her mother says she has a feeling she'll be there spiritually ... cheering everybody on.

"I know she's just sitting up there in heaven applauding Jenny for this."

For more information on the race or to pre-register, go to