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Jump into Relay fun, support

The Relay for Life of Pierce County starts 6 p.m. Friday, April 5, and ends 8 a.m. Saturday, April 6, at the high school, and each year hundreds of people pour into the River Falls High School each year to walk, talk, play, eat and otherwise participate.

As it happens, legions of cancer survivors, caregivers and supporters keep walking through the night to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

The 14-hour event serves to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, honor the people lost to cancer, support those who battle the disease and further the medical research that may someday find a cure.

This year's local event also helps commemorate the 100th birthday of ACS, dubbed "the official sponsor of birthdays."

ACS's regional Community Relations representative Kellie Burrows said the fundraising goal for this year's event is $162,000. People find many creative ways to give both at and outside the Relay event; people can continue giving well after the local event, too.

About 400 people on a total of 46 teams have already generated more than $36,000 leading up to the event.

Many commit to keeping a member walking on the track throughout the night to help raise money through sponsorships. Others organize games, specials with local businesses, fun activities and more.

Cancer fight takes many formsBurger Battle beefs up benefits

Several local restaurants said yes to an unusual kind of Relay fundraiser: A local Burger Battle that runs April 1 through May 31.

The friendly fight raises funds for ACS plus names a River Falls burger-making champion June 6.

To become a Burger Battle judge, people need to buy a $25 punch card. They're available at the participating businesses and through participating Relay teams.

The punch cards act as a free pass to one free, featured burger at each of the eight participating establishments: Bo's 'N Mine, Coach's, Copper Kettle, Junior's Bar & Restaurant, Lazy River, Mainstreeter, South Fork Café and the West Wind Supper Club.

Voters then use a code on their punch card to access the Relay website and vote for their favorite meat-sandwich creation. Votes will be accepted through June 5.

Craig Hofland with 'is it 2B Marketing, LLC' is helping organize the event and says the idea is for people to try the burgers at each place, which may mean eating some new combinations.

He said, "Each restaurant is serving their own unique featured burger, and the restaurants have stepped it up with some of them serving ½-pounders with some unusual fixings."

Hofland confirms that all the restaurants agreed to donate up to $250 burgers and that all the proceeds go to Relay. He said the Burger Battle victor will receive a trophy.

Relay chairpersons tell gut-wrenching stories

Erin Nelson opens the Relay event

"I grew up in River Falls and currently live in Spring Valley with my husband, where I am the pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church. I am honored to be the Honorary Chairperson for this year's Relay for Life.

I became first involved in Relay for Life when my college roommate, Annie, was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2008. Sadly, after a very courageous fight, Annie died in the spring of 2010.

Just months later, in the summer of 2010 I was diagnosed with stage 3 diffuse large B cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Getting cancer in my 20s was terrifying. I was worried about dying so young, about the effect cancer would have on my future health and my fears were compounded by having just watched my friend die.

Luckily, I received excellent care from the doctors and nurses at the Rivers Cancer Center in River Falls, who got me through six rounds of chemo and all the awful side effects. I had a great wig and lots of good advice from the "Look Good, Feel Better" program the American Cancer Society puts on and tons of love and support from friends and family. I was declared cancer free in the winter of 2010.

Now, two years later, I am thankful every day to be alive. I was lucky, but not everyone is as lucky as I am. One of my chemo drugs had just been approved to be used with my type of cancer a few years before I started treatment. This is why we need to be so diligent with fundraising for cancer research.

I was lucky, but we can't stop fighting until people like Annie are lucky as well."

Virnigs tell caregiving story before memorial ceremony

"Mary was 18 years old and determined to become a large animal veterinarian with dreams of working with Heifer International when a tumor the size of a cantaloupe was found by her family doctor during her pre-participation physical to run cross country at UW-River Falls.

Mary had set the Onamia High School 1600-meter run record, played formidable defense on the basketball court and led her high school cross country team to state, all while an unknown tumor was pressing on the arteries to her legs.

In addition she participated in band, speech and 4-H, was class valedictorian, president of the MN Jr. Simmental Association and promoted the beef industry as the MN Simmental Queen. Her passion was breeding and raising purebred Simmental cattle and she was excited to pursue an animal science degree at UWRF.

But after diagnosis of ganglion-neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, her oncologist said, 'Give us a year of your life.' And Mary gave.

She underwent brutal chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem-cell transplant at the University of Minnesota. Then she re-enrolled at UWRF, attending classes wearing a bandana to cover her bald head and barely able to carry her backpack. Despite requiring weekly blood transfusions, she volunteered on the Relay for Life committee in River Falls and was a founding member of the Conquer Cancer Club on campus. The neuroblastoma re-occurred in her sophomore year requiring more chemo and experimental therapies in San Francisco over winter break. But she was back at classes spring semester.

Then in her junior year, her doctor called to warn her, the cell counts were too dangerously low for her to remain at college. She battled through a second transplant, this time a double cord blood transplant. Not long after, she was diagnosed with AML, a leukemia ironically caused by the aggressive treatments for neuroblastoma.

This led Mary to advocate for children's cancer research, to find innovative therapies for these difficult-to-treat pediatric cancers. For four-and-a-half years, Mary fought the cancers with the same tenacity and determination she demonstrated in the classroom, in the show arena, and in athletics. Mary refused to give up in adversity. UWRF awarded her bachelor of science degree with honors (after her death). On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2010, Mary took her victory lap. Now she runs free."