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Paynesville Press - June 30, 2004

Relay for Life held in Paynesville

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The 2004 Paynesville Relay for Life was deemed a huge success.

Not just because it raised $47,000 - more than four times the goal - for the American Cancer Society, but because it brought hundreds of people together to challenge the dreaded disease of cancer and to support cancer survivors, according to Dr. Allan Solum, who served as emcee for the event.

walking the track Solum related his own personal experience with cancer - the death of his mother. At that time, in the 1960s, cancer was a taboo topic, even to the immediate family. Nowadays, noted Solum, the fear of cancer can be overcome by sharing experiences, a focus of the Relay for Life.

Hundreds of walkers paced the high school track for the Relay for Life on Friday June 25, and Satruday, June 26. The first Relay for Life in Paynesville exceeded its goals: attracting 17 teams (goal of 10) and raising $47,000 for the American Cancer Society (goal of $10,000).

On Friday evening, 17 teams gathered at the PAHS track to honor cancer victims and to support and celebrate the lives of cancer survivors. The event, like a tent revival, featured testimonials from cancer survivors, a luminaria ceremony with illuminated bags representing cancer victims and survivors, and walkers circling the track throughout the night, sharing stories.

The Relay for Life is an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, which uses the funds raised at nearly 4,000 local events for cancer research and education and for improving the quality of life for cancer victims and their families.

Starting at 6 p.m. on Friday evening and lasting until 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, team members shared the symbolic walk. The darkness represented the fear and pain that cancer victims feel after a positive diagnosis and during cancer treatment. Throughout the night, luminarias lit the track. The sunlight represented the end of cancer and the start of a new life. When dawn arrived, the candles were snuffed out, just as the organization hopes to snuff out cancer.

With more than $47,000 raised by 17 teams, the local event was more successful than Debbie Meagher, the local organizer, had hoped. Her official goal was to have 10 teams and to raise $10,000. Her real goal, however, was to pack the stands during the ceremonies, a goal that was exceeded as people overflowed the bleachers for the various ceremonies.

Raising the flag In all, at least 200 people participated officially in the event, but Meagher estimated the number of people who actually turned out for the event was closer to 1,000.

The Paynesville American Legion Color Guard saluted the flag, which was lowered to half mast in honor of the late President Ronald Reagan.

Cancer survivors were asked to walk the first lap on Friday evening, as symbols of hope to overcoming cancer. The goal of the American Cancer Society is that everyone who has cancer becomes a cancer survivor.

Five-year-old Lexxi Thielen - who has battled leukemia since she was two - was the smallest cancer survivor on the track. Later, her father, Paul, told her story to the crowd during the luminaria ceremony on Friday night. He talked about her chemotherapy, her 17 spinal taps, and the stroke she suffered while undergoing cancer treatment.

The Relay for Life is a way to give cancer a face, a name, and a story, Thielen told the crowd.

During his career, Pastor Keith Ainsley of Nordland Lutheran Church counseled many of his parishioners who had cancer. But, before he gave the opening prayer, Ainsley described the emotions that engulfed him when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. Through surgery and treatment, Ainsley drew support from God, his family, his friends, his congregation, and from some of the same people he once counseled, he said.

Tina (Welle) Luke, originally from Spring Hill, another speaker, described how difficult it was to tell her family she had cervical cancerÉbecause her father was dying from cancer. She recovered, but her dad did not.

Ole Kraemer of Paynesville, the captain of the Stars of Hope, volunteered to join the Relay for Life without knowing that cancer was about to have a profound effect on her own family. While she was organizing her team, she learned that her nephew, Lee Fleischhacker, needed a bone marrow transplant for his leukemia. Fleischhacker's mother, Anna, and several other members of the family walked in the relay and believe Fleischhacker has a good chance of beating the disease, thanks to advances in cancer research, much of which is funded by the American Cancer Society. With eight siblings willing to donate bone marrow, it's likely that he will find a good match, said Anna.

Sandy Czycalla, a five-year cancer survivor, found a wealth of support and information from the American Cancer Society after her diagnosis of breast cancer. The organization helped her find prostheses, wigs, and information to make her life better while she underwent treatment. She walked on Friday night to ensure the organization can continue to help cancer patients.

Dr. Randy Jacklitch, who sponsored a team, walked all night so his grandchildren would not have to suffer another loss. He recalled seeing his 10-year-old granddaughter cry when her great-grandfather died from cancer recently. He hopes money raised during the event will help find cures for more types of cancer.

Participating in the event can be very emotional, said Shelly Wenker, especially for those who have lost family or friends to cancer. Wenker, the captain of Family Ties, a team from Greenwald, sat quietly by a campfire with her team while she contemplated what cancer meant to her, having lost a sister and sister-in-law to cancer. "It's hard. Very hard," she said. "You want them out there as a survivor."

Despite the pain, Wenker felt it was important to come to the event and show her support for cancer survivors and current sufferers.

Besides the donations raised by teams, money was also raised for the American Cancer Society by concession sales that night and by the disk jockey, who played music all night and charged $1 for special requests.

The top team for fundraising was the team sponsored by the Lake Henry Lions, whose 100 members raised more than $8,000.

Fundraising stars - raising more than $1,000 each - were Marlene Athmann, Tina Luke, and Sharon Schoenberg.

According to Meagher, though, everyone who participated in the event were stars.

Meagher and the Paynesville Relay for Life committee - Linda Athmann, Marlene Athmann, Judy Granzow, Cindy Hess, Pat Reiman, Mary Spanier, Helen Storkamp, and Marcy Thompson - would like to thank everyone who made the event a success. Meagher has already begun to look forward to next year's event, which she hopes will be even more successful than this year.

Editor's Note: A Relay for Life was held at the high school track in 1985 with five teams and raised $6,000.

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