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Guest Editorial: Local women offer hope to those stricken with cancer

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Linda Hendrickson and Kathy Wouters have been chosen to represent local cancer survivors in 2013 through the East Otter Tail County Relay For Life. Their stories and experiences with cancer differ greatly, but are both inspiring stories of hope for all those strugging with the disease.

Each year, the East Otter Tail County Relay For Life organizing committee chooses two cancer survivors to represent all local cancer survivors for the year. The choices for 2013 are Linda Hendrickson and Kathy Wouters.

The cancer stories of these two women inspire and offer hope to all those stricken by the disease.

They have much in common: they’re friends, they both are active and involved in fitness activities, they are optimistic, and they are “people-oriented” women. They know first-hand the life-threatening storm of cancer, the pain of treatment and the joy of renewed health.

There are differences, too: Linda is a 28-year survivor; Kathy has had cancer twice, but has been cancer-free now for a year. Their cancer treatment experiences are very different, reflecting major, more effective therapies available today.

Linda and her husband, Dale, have lived in the area for 35 years. They wanted to live on a lake, and bought a “fixer-upper” that took years to complete.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1975. Things were different then. She was given a 35 percent chance of survival for a cancer that is quite treatable today. Chemotherapy treatments were very harsh, with serious side effects. She had 12 rounds of chemo, each accompanied by a 24-hour stay in the hospital.

Through it all, she kept working. As she said, “My job was my salvation. It was important because each day it made me have to look presentable.”

Except for her husband and daughter, Linda had very little support. People were afraid to touch her for fear of getting cancer. She was isolated. Her oncologist offered little information and no support. There was no organized support group. Sadly, she lost her job because her employer wanted to avoid having an employee die “on his watch.”

This experience changed her life.

Today, Linda is a vocal proponent for support groups. She feels that only other survivors can really understand what having cancer is like. She is frustrated by our inability to sustain a successful group locally. However, The American Cancer Society has a support and information service available 24-hours a day that can be reached by calling 1-800-227-2345.

Kathy is a lifelong resident of the Frazee area. She married her high school sweetheart and had two children, a son and a daughter.

She was the first in her family to get cancer, but unfortunately not the last. She lost her husband, brother and son-in-law to cancer shortly after her diagnosis.

Seven years ago, Kathy was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma, isolated to her appendix. Treatment was successful and she lived six years cancer free.

Later, she developed a chronic sore throat. She went from doctor to doctor, but the cause was not identified. By the time they diagnosed cancer of the esophagus, it was already at stage 4 – serious, indeed. Her treatment, when compared to Linda’s, was more sophisticated, enlightened and supportive. Her family was very involved throughout.

However, after three series of five-day-a-week chemo treatments, her oncologist told her some bad news. She needed a bone marrow transplant to beat this cancer. She wanted no more treatment, but her family would not let her quit. They were always there, always with her.

Kathy was at the University of Minnesota hospitals for almost a month preparing for the transplant, and she was there for a month after the treatment. She then recovered for a couple of months at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge. There, she was never alone.

She says, “Good people were with me; they were so good to me.”

Hope Lodges, at the University and the Mayo Clinic, were available totally free of charge for all cancer patients and caregivers throughout their cancer battle. Quite a change from Linda’s story!

Kathy today remains energetic, involved and optimistic. She continues to work, she walks every day and is active in her church and community.

She was a waitress at the Stone Hearth for 34 years. She has always wanted to help older people, so she went back to school, got licensed and now works nights at the assisted living housing in Vergas.

These two women inspire us. They demonstrate that full, purposeful lives are lived after cancer. They have a strong message to articulate: that all cancer victims need unwavering support from all of us.

Meet Kathy and Linda at the Relay For Life Survivors Dinner on Monday, July 8 at Stevelly’s. Social hour will begin at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 6.

The featured speaker for the evening will be Jessi Erickson, who grew up in Henning and was diagnosed with a serious cancer while still in college. Several who previously heard Jessi speak at a regional Relay For Life meeting called her message “articulate,” inspiring” and “from the heart.” She is a graduate of the Academy of Art at the University of San Francisco. Presently, she owns J. Lee Photography in Dilworth.

One may make reservations for the dinner and program by calling Judy Kunza at 346-4714 or LeRoy and Ruth Wegscheid at 367-2571. The event is free to all cancer survivors. All others are welcome to attend for the price of the meal.

Ron Anderson, EOT Relay For Life