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Betty Greiff, Sharon Loerzel: Honorary Co-Chairpersons named for the 2009 Relay for Life

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By Ron Anderson

East Otter Tail

Relay for Life committee

Our 2009 Relay for Life Honorary Co-Chairs share much in common. Both are lifelong residents of the community. They were victimized by similar cancers in the same year. Both are positive, highly motivated people. They lead healthy, fulfilling lives, feeling a strong sense of purpose in what they do. Both are active in the spiritual lives of their respective churches. As I talked to each of them, I was impressed by how hard they worked and how busy they were. Somehow, these two exemplary women have found significant time for important roles with the American Cancer Society's event -they are long time volunteers. Our organizing committee is delighted to announce Betty Greiff and Sharon Loerzel as the 2009 Honorary Co-Chairpersons for our Relay for Life.

Sharon Loerzel joined the Perham High School Relay team before her year 2000 struggle with cancer. Happily, she today remains cancer-free. She joined the team because of the influence of a teacher/coach, Ruth Wegscheid. She is a prolific fundraiser. She is known as the "jelly lady" who sells homemade jelly each year, a natural fit for her love of gardening. She has an annual goal of recruiting one new sponsor for the Relay. She helps with their garage sale fundraiser, sells other special products, and spends much of Relay Night at the track.

She began her cancer journey when a regular check-up found "irregular" cells; the pathology report brought bad news - it was cancer. She had surgery, electing to have her ovaries removed as well, so "I would not have to have surgery again." There was a family cancer history to contend with; two other sisters have battled cancer, her father had lung cancer. Sharon has an important cancer message for all of us, "Regular annual check-ups are very important; make sure that the physical is very thorough. A physically active lifestyle along with healthy eating habits can improve your chances of not getting cancer."

She is a busy, organized person. She was a farmer's wife for many years. A couple of years ago, her husband, Ron, sold the cows and they move from the farm, enabling them to winter in Arizona. Her life is far from quiet, however. She continues to be an AARP volunteer, helping people with their income taxes. She is an active member of St. Henry's Catholic Church. She is the treasurer for the Dent American Legion Auxiliary. She did day care for 20 years. She has done - and continues to do - lots of sewing, including dresses for bridesmaids and flower girls. For many years, she has been the Perham Township treasurer. Because of her personal experience, she says, "I like to be busy; it helps me keep organized. Cancer does not have to limit or inhibit one's life. It can be productive - and purposeful."

She and her husband enjoy gardening - it's his "stress-reliever." Her large garden fits well with another hobby: canning. She has a large pantry filled with canned goods. Sharon and Ron have three children. Becky is an optometrist; Greg is an engineer who now is a personal trainer; and Daniel has lived on the family farm for three years.

She enthusiastically values the Relay for Life. "Relay night is 'meaningful'" for me, she says, "I like the speeches by the Honorary Co-Chairs, the luminaries are impressive - and we survivors can share experiences. The Survivor's Banquet helps me to relate to other survivors, to help those who are struggling with cancer issues."

Betty Greiff's cancer story parallels Sharon's - but is different and unique, too. In the fall of 1999, she knew something was very wrong. She was gaining weight, was puffy and did not feel well. A biopsy revealed nothing. Further exams yielded no clue. "I was very busy. I couldn't take meds - they drove me crazy. Dr. Stolee recommended surgery; I agreed, but not until after the millenium; I was just too involved with other things." On Jan. 4, 2000, she had surgery. It was cancer; Betty, who is Dr. Stolee's nurse, has a name for it: "endometrial stromal sarcoma." The malignancy was low grade - treatable. Rare, but not deadly. "If I had not known Dr. Stolee, I would not have had this done. Then I would have been in trouble," she comments. The following year's CT scan, ultra sound, blood tests and chest x-rays revealed nothing; it was gone. She has been cancer free since.

When asked why she got involved with the Relay for Life, she responds, "I had cancer. I don't want it again, but if it does return, I want it cured." She is a dedicated Relay activist. She says, "When I began, I did not know much. I wanted to join, so I joined the hospital team for two years. After that I helped Louise Tower organize the St. Paul's team. I've been there since." Betty is also on the Relay Organizing Committee, serving as the entertainment chair.

Betty Greiff had to deal with serious cancer issues in her family at a young age. It motivated her to choose nursing as a career. Her father had cancer in 1952 at age 35; Betty was 8 or 9. She went with him to radiation treatment in Fargo - as she described it, she was "daddy's little girl." The nurse would bring her to the treatment room and tell her, "Here, push this button; you can help your daddy." From that time on, she knew she would be a nurse. Her father supported and encouraged her choice. But his cancer returned, and he passed away when Betty was a high school senior. "His experience reflected who I am," she reflects upon that time of her life. She is dedicated to helping people through being a nurse - particularly Dr. Stolee's nurse. "I have no plans to retire - this is what I love to do. Maybe some day, not now."

Betty, like Sharon, has lived her entire life in Perham. She married her high school boyfriend, Pete. They have two grown children, Andrea and Adrian and two grandchildren. Betty is a person with a deep, living faith in God. This colors her cancer message to us. "If you get a diagnosis of cancer, trust the doctor. Have faith in God. Do what they say, pray that the doctors know, listen to the doctors. Do not diagnose yourself or treat cancer yourself. Bring your questions to the doctors - they are there to help you. They are not God, but they know much. Bring questions - they can't guess what you think. You can never have too much information." Reflecting upon her being a nurse, she concludes, "I stay with nursing because I can help. I can give them a hug, say 'God bless you' - and a little stress leaves. They know someone cares."

We want you to meet these two wonderful people, both survivors, both working to put an end to cancer; both living examples that cancer can be conquered. You can meet them at the Survivor's Banquet on Monday night at Mulligan's restaurant. The dinner is free to all cancer survivors - and costs only the price of the meal for caregivers and other guests. You do, however, need to reserve in advance. Call LeRoy and Ruth Wegscheid at 367-2571 or Judy Kunza at 346-4714. Join them - and all of us - at the Perham High School track for the Relay on Friday, July 10. You can hear Betty and Sharon's messages at 8:45, just prior to the luminary lighting.

We will see you there!