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Mom's fight with cancer shaped the attitude of LP-A's Raaen

Carter Raaen of the Lake Park-Audubon basketball team. Dave Wallis/Forum News Service

When Shannon Raaen watches her only son, her "baby" as she refers to him, play for Lake Park-Audubon in Thursday's Class A basketball quarterfinals, she will have a coin in her purse.

It's not a nickel, a penny, a quarter, a dime. There is no monetary value to this coin. It appeared in her husband's pocket when he was at a vending machine at a hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Oct. 7, 2015. It was moments before Shannon was set to have surgery, after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer the night before.

The coin, never before seen by the family, had angels on both sides.

"Sometimes you don't believe in angels," Shannon said. "But I do."

Her son, Lake Park-Audubon junior forward Carter Raaen, will play in Thursday's 3 p.m. state quarterfinal game against No. 2 seed Goodhue at Williams Arena the way he's always played. He'll fight.

"He's a pretty tenacious kid," LP-A coach Kyle Haberman said. "He's kind of a football player at heart. If I told him to run through a wall he would. For us, he just does the little things. He'll get two huge offensive rebounds in the second half that end up being the difference. He's huge for us."

He learned to fight from his mother. It was Carter who wanted a pop from the vending machine when the coin was discovered in his dad's pocket.

"My mom is a strong, confident, beautiful woman," Carter said. "She doesn't back down to a fight."

Shannon was 45 when she was diagnosed in October. Carter watched her fall apart for six months of cancer treatment until she was in remission in April. He fell with her, suffering a panic attack during school after seeing her in the hospital.

He also fought with her. For the week-and-a-half a blood clot was unknowingly forming in her lung, he carried her from her chair to her bed each night, wondering if he was losing her. He, along with his three siblings, helped shave her head when her hair started falling out from the chemotherapy. He had to watch as doctors had to redo her stitches from surgery.

It was the least he could do for mom.

"When I go to work and she brings me food ... she does all these little things for me that I can never say thank you to," Carter said. "Her birthday is one day after mine, so we have this big birthday. It's a day where both of us can celebrate together. I thought about it where you don't know how much time you have left. Make every day worth it. Don't put stuff off."

The entire Raaen family had to fight. While Shannon was doing treatment, one daughter was on crutches after hurting her knee, Carter hurt his meniscus and was on crutches and had to have his appendix taken out, while another daughter tore her ACL skiing.

This all occurred when Shannon was having masses removed, going through weekly chemotherapy and multiple procedures for blood clots. Right after Shannon was done with her treatment, her husband had a heart attack.

"It seems like everything ran together," Shannon said. "The hardest part for me was with the kids. They were strong. They were optimistic. I got the positive feeling from them. I needed to get back for them."

Before her first round of chemotherapy, Shannon sat with her oldest daughter, Chelsey, at the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo. She was terrified. A little girl, holding her own I.V. stand for her own cancer treatment, entered the room with cookies for everyone. The same little girl continued delivering baked goods and candy throughout Shannon's treatment, bringing Christmas treats during winter and Valentine's Day treats in February.

On that first day, when the girl entered the room, Chelsey turned to her mother and said, "If this little girl can do treatment, you can."

"She was the cutest, sweetest little thing, about 6 or 7 years old," Shannon said. "Right then and there I came with a positive attitude. I can do this. I am strong, I can handle this. That little girl was my inspiration. I have to do this for my kids. They're my life. I'm going to be OK."

It's impossible to miss the glow in Shannon's voice when she talks about watching Carter play basketball, admitting she can't stop talking when asked about her kids.

"It is so awesome," Shannon said. "He's such a good player. He pushes himself. He's so strong. He plays sports so hard. He's tough on defense. He wants to do his best. That's the way he is in football, basketball. He's a great kid. All my kids are. They're great. Carter is so sensitive. He loves to make sure I'm OK. He's got this heart of gold ... he's just great."

The glow is there because Shannon knew what it felt like to wonder when was the last time she'd see him. Shannon was found to have hereditary cancer cells, so the kids are beginning to get tested. She knows it will never fully go away. That's why she takes her coin to every doctor's appointment.

For now, the Raaens are still here. Shannon is still here. And she'll be at the state tournament with her coin in her purse.

"Other people can look at winning the lottery," Shannon said. "I did win the lottery. I'm here."

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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