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Light of Hope

"HOPE' was the feeling going around the DLHS track during the Relay for Life1 / 5
Luminaries were lit about 10 p.m. Friday night, honoring survivors and people lost to cancer2 / 5
Relay for Life participants walk along the Detroit Lakes High School track last Friday night for the annual American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Tim Eggebraaten serenades Chrisy Wierima, cancer survivor Marian Ohman and Janice Bartness during the Relay for Life Friday night3 / 5
Ohman and Janice Bartness during the Relay for Life Friday night. Relay for Life torchbearer Carol Tharaldson and husband, Jerry, take their initial lap around the DLHS track at dusk Friday night4 / 5
Luminaries were lit to honor cancer survivors and memorialize those who have lost the battle5 / 5

Hope wasn't just the word being illuminated with candles at the Relay for Life Friday; it was the feeling.

"Maybe the money we are raising right here, right now will be what it takes to find the cure, and maybe one day we won't have to hear the words anymore" said this year's co-chair of the event, Margorie Berg.

"The words" are, of course, 'you have cancer' -- something statistics show 160 people in Becker County will hear this year.

The same statistics show 66 of those people will die from the disease.

But not if those in the relay have anything to say about it.

The Relay for Life is not only the largest fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, but it is the largest fundraiser in the world for any cause.

This year marked Becker County's 19th year in the fight.

"This year we have about 20 teams made up of over 100 walkers," said the event's other co-chair, Heather Bridgeman.

Walkers took step after step at the Detroit Lakes High School track, hoping they were all in the right direction.

"The money raised here will be used for research, education and the Hope Lodge," Bridgeman said.

The American Cancer Society builds Hope Lodges all over the U.S., including one by the University of Minnesota and one by the Mayo Clinic.

It is a place where cancer fighters can stay for free while getting treatment away from home.

This year's torchbearer in Detroit Lakes, Carol Tharaldson, knows first hand how the Hope Lodge can soften the blows of the cancer fight.

"You meet other people who are also battling cancer, and the friendships, the bonding and the support is just different when you're all there together," Tharaldson said, as she talked about her stage 3 advanced, aggressive form of uterine cancer.

"When they told me I had it, I was shocked," Tharaldson recalled, "I never thought I was a candidate because I did everything I was supposed to do -- kept my weight down, exercised, ate healthy food and got yearly check-ups."

Tharaldson found out how quickly and indiscriminately cancer can strike after her yearly pap revealed its sucker-punch.

"But I always told her," said Tharaldson's husband, Jerry, "that we would fight through this together, and we have."

Jerry sat in the stands, cheering his wife on, as she and her fellow cancer survivors released 50 doves into the air.

"Doves symbolize peace, love and hope," said the doves' owner, Dennis Imdieke, "I think it's an iconic representation of those fighting cancer."

Imdieke knows.

He battled cancer himself seven years ago.

"It was colon cancer -- I was between stage 3 and 4," Imdieke said.

But when he says he lost his job after cancer treatments, he made his own hope by starting a business doing dove releases.

"You just keep yourself busy and try not to focus on the cancer," said Imdieke, "You just go through it and hope it all works out."

That word again -- hope -- is what everybody there held on to.

It is what musicians Emma Wood and DL police officer Tim Eggebraaten sang for.

It is what the Center Stage Dance Academy and the Minnesota Flyers performed for.

And it is what every purple shirt stood for.

"Everybody wearing purple shirts are cancer survivors," said Berg, as she and Bridgeman stood together wearing orange volunteer t-shirts.

Both have been on the front lines of the local cancer fight for three years.

Cancer touched them through the people they love the most.

"My Grandpa died from cancer and my mother is a breast cancer survivor," said Berg as she broke down crying -- not as much for herself as for her fellow co-chair.

"My dad died of cancer almost ten years ago, and I lost my mom to it two years ago," said Bridgeman, as tears fell freely between the two of them.

Cancer seems to have united them with a strength that is created when people with a cause join forces.

"If we don't do it, who will?" said Bridgeman, "I want other people, including my kids to benefit from research and treatment that comes down the road from the money being raised right now."

That money totaled well over $35,000 in Detroit Lakes.

So as 2,000 luminaries representing cancer victims and survivors lined the track and people walked out with silent auction items, many others continued to walk on.

The walked into the night and back into the day, with the sun coming up to end their relay at 6 a.m.

Then another day began -- another day of research, education and appreciation.

"It makes you appreciative of time, friends and family," said Jerry Tharaldson, as he watched his wife, Carol, on the field, "You have to stop and smell the roses."