Survivors and their families take a lap of recognition. Photos by Mitch George
By Ruth Hanson
The goal for the Dodge County Stroll, otherwise known as the Relay for Life, was $155,000.
So it was an exuberant Aleta Abbott, the chair again this year, who announced that the Stroll had beaten their goal with a total of $156,395!
"We are very pleased," she said. "We had 417 items in the silent auction and raised $11,000. People come from all over to our Stroll - Byron and Eyota and all over. It was a beautiful night, which helps us get a good, area-wide community turnout."
Lori Pagel was the honorary chair and spoke to the crowd.
"I teach high school ag," Pagel said. "We do various service projects. In 2006 we started a mini Relay for Life, which we called Rainbow of Hope. We promised to repeat it every three years..
They planned to do another Rainbow of Hope in 2013. That year Pagel was scheduled for a routine mammogram. She put it off until October. It came back positive. She had surgery the day before Thanksgiving break. She didn't miss another day of school.
The doctor told her they had caught the cancer in the early stages - that they wouldn't need to do chemo, just radiation, but he changed his mind. She needed chemo.
"He gave me a prescription for a wig," she said. "I went shopping in the Methodist Hospital subway at the Erickson Hair and Skin Care. I was having a hard time facing reality, but I turned into the American Cancer Society office. I met with a woman named Carol. We talked for three hours, partly about wigs. She said, 'It's not about the hair, but what you are going to go through. You will have to teach people, especially those kids, about what you are going to go through.' It was a turning point for me. I wanted to keep my journey private, but it became public."
She told her peers and then one of her students. Then she told the kids the painful truth that she was going to go through chemo. She found strength as she went along.
She learned that "chemo isn't for sissies," but they discovered that she had an allergy and changed her drug. Things got better.
Her students wanted to do something, so they set up a penny war and raised $2500 for her. She felt supported.
And her journey became public.
She got through chemo and started radiation. Her tech was a former student.
"God sent a little angel," she said.
After 30 days of radiation, there was a celebration, with her family and the staff people who had worked with her. She was in a room with a bell for her to ring in celebration. It was May 21.
She had not missed any days of school except the chemo days. She went to her son Jeff's wedding in Rochester on June 28.
"I celebrate every day that I am able to go on with life," she said. "My hair is beginning to come back."
She smiles at some of the memories, like the first day she wore her wig to school. One boy told her she looked stylish. A ninth grader asked her to take her wig off and she did.
"Educating them was important," Lori said. "We have to deal with it. I had to keep going...and I did."
The honorary caregiver spoke next.
"There were so many luminaries for our son, Corbin," Angela Lamphere said. "I was touched. He will be going to kindergarten this year and our whole family, including two sisters and a brother, are excited. He is the third of our four kids."
Corbin got neuroblastoma when he was four years old. It is a nervous system cancer. That was 16 months ago. She remembers the tears.
"He is such a sweet kid," she said. "And the hospital staff people are so good to him."
There were 48 teams walking around the fairgrounds blacktop, stopping occasionally for a bite to eat as the bagpipers played and David Derby and Betsy Singer talked. There were 460 team members.
And an amazing 4500 luminaries marked the edge of the circle with candlelight.
The top team fundraisers were Fishing to Fight Cancer (Rose Culbertson and Jean Allen) with $12,357; Finley Pride (Sarah Finley) with $9,768; and Wacky Walkers (Annette Carlson) with $6,233.
The top fundraising individual was Jamie Rink with $2600, followed by Donna Behrns with $2561 and a tie from Barb Anderson and Marlene Wacholtz, with $2095 each.
The Top New Team was the Treasure Chests with captain Melissa Holmberg. The Best Decorated Team was Constructing A Cure with captain Karen Besch.
"We would like to thank all the people who pitched in to help us have another successful Stroll," Aleta said.