Cancer survivor to keynote Friday’s program
Got your teams? Sponsors? Walking shoes? Joyful attitude?
Forest Lake’s 20th annual Relay for Life begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2.
Held at the Forest Lake High School track, the event lasts all night, as teams camp out and team members take turns walking laps to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
“We want to annihilate cancer, and that takes money for research,” organizer Nancy Rosman said.
As of July 29, 21 teams totaling 210 participants had raised $84,707 for the Forest Lake Relay for Life. Last year’s event brought in $130,000. In its 19-year history, Forest Lake has raised $2.2 million for the cause.
Forest Lake is one of about 5,000 U.S. communities in which volunteers hold a Relay for Life. The event has spread to 20 other countries.
The evening begins with an opening ceremony to inspire hope by sharing recent accomplishments. This will also serve as a reminder that fighting cancer is a year-round priority.
Cousins Neal Evan Peterson and Nathan Brown will provide gathering music. A Sweet Adelines quartet will sing the national anthem. The invocation will be by Pastor Brad Reis of Willowbrook Church.
The opening ceremony includes a welcome by stage manager Carna Brandt and a keynote speech by Mary Ann Cooper. Both are cancer survivors.
At 7:20 p.m., the release of 20 doves marks the beginning of the survivor lap, which cancer survivors and caregivers walk together, led by bagpipers Ralph Magnusson and Paul Dennison.
This is the official start of the 12-hour walk for relay teams.
The Locks of Love ponytail cutting, to create wigs for cancer patients, will happen on the stage at 7:45 p.m. After stylists from Roxy’s Total Image, Carousel Beauty Salon, His & Hers Hair Company and Lemon Water Salon give them a free new style, the hair donors will reappear on stage to show their new cuts.
The luminaria ceremony is held at dusk to honor people who have fought cancer.
Relay teams will be on the track all night. At midnight all are welcome to join them for a 5-10K fun walk/run.
The closing ceremony is held at 6 a.m. Saturday morning to remember lives lost and to celebrate the commitment to fight back.
Mary Ann Cooper, the keynote speaker, has been volunteering at the Forest Lake Relay for Life for 19 years, since 1994.
For several years, she and her team, Coop’s Crew, brought in thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society, she said.
After that she served as a coordinator, with volunteer teams reporting to her.
Cooper fought breast cancer in 1991 with a mastectomy and the drug Tamoxifen. Her surgery was done at District Memorial Hospital in Forest Lake.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with rectal cancer. This time she underwent chemotherapy, radiation, major surgery for a massive resection of the colon, and more chemotherapy.
“I made it through,” she said.
Except for the surgery, which was performed at United Hospital in St. Paul, Cooper had all the treatments at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming.
“My surgeon said the chemo I needed was ‘cookbook style,’” she said, meaning it could be administered by any of several oncology groups.
She was treated so well at Fairview, she said, that “without a doubt, I would recommend them to any cancer patient.”
Cooper praises the medical groups of radiation oncologist Xin Wang and hematologist/oncologist L. Lisa Ge.
“You develop a relationship with the people who treat you,” she said. “I feel very blessed.”
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, Cooper says, you have two choices: feel sorry for yourself or get on with life. The patient’s attitude while going through treatment is most important, she said.
“I’m not a ‘poor me’ person. I have a lot of living to do, with four beautiful grandchildren. I said, ‘Let’s tackle this and get on with life,’” she said.
In last week’s Forest Lake Times Relay for Life announcement, Cooper was referred to as a “two-time cancer survivor.” While not sure that term is medically correct, she said, she does think of herself as a survivor.
“So yeah, that is me,” she said.
A Forest Lake resident her whole life, Cooper graduated with the Forest Lake High School Class of 1968, and her three children also went through Forest Lake schools.
At this year’s Relay for Life, her daughter Erin, a registered nurse, will be there with boyfriend Corey. And of course Mike Cooper, her husband of 43 years, will be on hand to support her.
“It’s a family affair. This is what we do the first Friday in August,” said Carna Brandt. While she repeats for the third time her role as stage manager, her husband will run the raffle, her oldest daughter is in charge of the silent auction, another daughter will walk on one of the teams, and her youngest son is the sound and equipment operator.
Brandt, who works at Allina as a medical assistant, has been involved with Relay for Life since 1998, the first year she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 2010, 12 years later, she was diagnosed a second time. She is now cancer-free.
For six years Brandt was captain of the Allina Angels team. For the past three years, she has had her own team, the Surf’Ivors, whose name reflects a time shen she lived in Hawaii.
She has served on the leadership team since 2000. “I worked my way up” to the stage manager position, she said.