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Kickin' Cancer 2008: Survivors embody theme

This year's Relay for Life theme, Kickin' Cancer, also describes what participants hope to do.

Organizers have been busy planning this year's March 28-29 event since last year's ended.

They hope to exceed the $159,000 raised in 2007 by surpassing $165,000 this year.

The event serves to celebrate survival, grieve losses and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

ACS provides resources to cancer victims and their families and conducts research to find a cure for the disease.

Honorary survivors help commemorate the night each year -- people with incredible stories of strength and life who share their perspectives. Attendees will hear more from three honorary survivors this year: Kristen Allen, Susan DeSanctis and Dale Jorgenson.

Kristen's journey

"I am an Australian, a mother, wife, daughter, friend, teacher, learner, horse rider, dog lover, and manager. I am also a cancer survivor. The 2008 Relay for Life falls almost exactly one year after my surgery for ovarian cancer. I am honored to be representing the University of Wisconsin-River Falls at the relay and to have an opportunity to say thank you to the community that has helped me get through the past year. I am here and healthy now because I had several wonderful support systems.

"My cancer diagnosis proved to be a rallying call, for me, for my family and friends, and for many colleagues and community members. My recovery from surgery and my journey through chemotherapy were eased because people brought us meals, tended our garden, and cared for our animals. I was fortunate to have good medical insurance that gave me immediate access to high quality, specialized medical care. My work colleagues picked up my workload so I didn't have to worry about being out on extended medical leave.

"A cancer diagnosis is a serious, scary, and sometimes overwhelming event. My diagnosis presented me with a life-threatening illness and with terms, procedures, people, places, and statistics that I had never even contemplated. I took control over the only things I felt I could -- my ability to learn more and my attitude. I learned quickly not to worry too much about why I had this cancer and to focus on learning about treatment protocols. I focused on living healthily. And I was determined, like Steven Jay Gould, to beat the odds by understanding what influenced them. And the results? So far, so good."

Allen said a person's cancer diagnosis is as individual as the person who gets it. She says about all a person can do is find out the prognosis and treatment options then chart a path.

Susan's journey

"My name is Susan DeSanctis. I am 45 years old, a teacher's aide, a wife, a mother of four boys, and a cancer survivor 1 1/2 years out. My entire life changed forever when I woke up on Christmas Eve 2005. My symptoms began with numbness and discoloration in my fingers and toes. As time passed, my symptoms changed. After four months of testing, on May 11, 2006, I was diagnosed with a very rare blood cancer called POEMS Syndrome. There were only 100 known cases at that time. I have since received an auto-augulous stem cell transplant (the only known cure) at Mayo Clinic. My caregiver was my husband, Peter. Peter never left my side for the eight weeks we were in Rochester, Minn. Because of his love and diligence in assisting with my care, I am here today.

"Family, friends, co-workers, community and church members provided our boys with meals, kindness and support. We have always known that we live in a wonderful, caring, giving community, and I am very proud and honored to be a part of this Celebration of Life."

DeSanctis says she thinks it's important to keep an upbeat attitude. She had faith that everything was going to be alright and said it helped to surround herself with positive people.

"Nothing is worse than having someone giving you pity when you're not well," she said.

She thinks Relay is important for many reasons: To find a cure; to provide resources to those getting a cancer diagnosis and their families; and to help people who can't pay for treatment.

"There are so many wonderful people out there that want to help and don't know where to begin. Just giving money donations is a great way for anyone to help," said DeSanctis.

She knew about Relay for Life from taking part in it several years ago.

DeSanctis said, "I think it is important to do whatever I can to raise awareness about cancer and to support research on screening, diagnosis, and treatment. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance of long-term survival...I think the relay helps raise awareness and funds for research."

Dale's journey

"My name is Dale Jorgenson, and I grew up and still live in River Falls. In late April of 2005, after I noticed two small specs of blood in my urine, my urologist told me I had a tumor in my bladder. A biopsy confirmed that it was cancer, and I had a radical cystectomy, to remove my bladder and prostate on May 12, 2005. A urostomy, or urinary diversion, was done at that time, which created a conduit to the outside of my body through a stoma for urine collection into a pouch.

"The cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock to me. My first thought was that I was going to die. I had no understanding about cancer, the treatments available, or any chance for survival. Since this all happened to me I've learned that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence for everyone. It is the beginning of a long journey down what is sometimes a very dark road. The love and support of my wife, family, friends, medical professionals, and my faith provided light along the way for me. It was my good fortune that the tumor was diagnosed in its early stages of development, and that medical technology has advanced to the stage that it has. I am cancer free. I am a survivor.

Pay attention to your health. Often your body will try to tell you that something is wrong long before there's a diagnosis."

Jorgenson said talk to health care professionals treating you to get educated about cancer. He said the ACS Web site ( is a good place to start.

"The more you know, the better prepared you are for what's going to happen," he said. "Talk to others that have or have had the same cancer as you have. Confide in someone close to you. Don't be afraid to tell them you're scared. Don't be afraid to cry a bit. It helps."

Jorgenson has participated in Relay before and said representing survivors is important. He said they need to have a face in the community.

"We are real, we have families, we have survived," he said. "I want people to know who I am. I want them to know cancer is a real disease that happens right in their own community to their own neighbors such as myself...and by putting a face on the disease it might just be a bit easier for a neighbor of mine that's been diagnosed with cancer."

Relay countdown

Little more than a month remains until the 16th annual River Falls Relay for Life. It takes place at 5 p.m. Friday, March 28, to 10 a.m. March 29 at River Falls High School.

Survivors kick off the evening by walking the first lap. Later, people honor lost loved ones in a luminaria ceremony.

Teams make a camp, listen to music, play games and walk laps. People can come for part of the evening or stay the whole night.

Rotary Club serves an inexpensive spaghetti dinner, and the Lion's Club cooks an early-morning hot breakfast. Both meals cost nothing for registered survivors.

Relay guests can choose from entertainment, activities, and snacks throughout the night. They can also browse the silent auction items or gift baskets.

The local band, The Tin Pan Alley Cats, returns to Relay this year along with one that hasn't played the event before: Stampede. Visitors can see the Helmer dancers perform or the Dude Looks Like a Lady contest plus play games including Texas Hold 'Em poker.

Organizers welcome more volunteers and ask that those people send an e-mail saying what hours they can work. People can register teams right up until the day of the relay.

"Last year there was a team that joined the day before, stayed the whole night and had a great time," said Relay co-chair Chris Blasius.

Teams can also set up booths in the commons area and are encouraged to think of creative ways to raise funds. For example, some teams are selling chocolate bars ordered through the Nectar Candy Company (e-mail a co-chair for an order form).

Blasius invites all cancer survivors to a reunion open house, where Relay organizers will gather input in an effort to keep improving the event. Join them from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, March 3, at the River Falls Area Hospital for light snacks and a chat about Relay for Life.

For more information contact Relay co-chairs Chris Blasius at 426-2503 or Kathy Casey at 426-6309 or e-mail them at

Reach Debbie Griffin at or 426-1048.