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Their view: Relay for Life honorees comfort, inspire

Marky Van de Streeke1 / 2
Romelle Nelson2 / 2

Marky Van de Streeke and Romelle Nelson have been named the 2012 Relay For Life Honorary Co-Chairpersons.

Chosen by the East Otter Tail American Cancer Society's relay committee, Marky and Romelle will represent all East Otter Tail County cancer survivors.

For this writer, who has known these women for almost 40 years, this choice is insightful and inspiring. These two share a common love for God and for others. They relate to other survivors and offer comfort to them. They were among the first Stephen Ministers to be commissioned at their church and they put their caring skills to frequent use. They both are recent breast cancer survivors. Their cancer stories are similar, and both are compelling.

Those of us who know Marky affirm that she is the most cheerful, upbeat person around. But she has had much to overcome. She lost a son to cancer at age 18; another was killed in an automobile accident. Only a few years ago, her beloved husband Harold died suddenly.

She does not dwell on these tragedies. Instead, she speaks of the community of wonderful people who have supported her.

She now supports cancer patients with cards, words and prayers.

"My friends, especially Sue, saw me through the whole ordeal," she states. "I have many to thank."

Marky praises Dr. Stolee and the nursing staff for their care, saying, "They even gave me hugs and kind words just before going into surgery. I am so blessed to be in Perham."

Marky was told she had cancer on Dec 22, 2011 - a grim Christmas present.

"I was shocked! I had a mammogram the week before - and it showed up. I was lucky to find it early. It was a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I finished chemo on April 3 and radiation on May 29," she says.

This is where Romelle enters Marky's story. Marky told Romelle that if the cancer returned, she might not fight it again. Romelle's response was perfect: "You can't quit. God gave us life and we must use it."

Over the years, Marky has done just that. For 16 years she has been a member of the Calvary Relay For Life team. She has been out of the country twice for humanitarian reasons. First, she went to Jamaica with a Mission Jamaica group, working with small children at their orphanage. After she returned, she received a card from them asking, "When will you come back to take care of the babies?" Later, as an active Lions member, she went to Mexico to help fit donated eyeglasses so the poor would have a chance for better sight.

Romelle's story is equally inspiring.

Her cancer was diagnosed in September 2010. She found a very small lump under her armpit - so small it was easy to miss. A thorough exam found three cancers, two in the breast and one on a lymph gland. Treatment followed. According to her oncologist, as far as he knows, she is cancer free - for now. It can be treated, but never completely cured.

Romelle's cancer treatment is complicated by multiple sclerosis. She has lived with this potentially debilitating disease for 40 years. She has no real family history of cancer, but several close relatives, including her mother, have had MS. She has made it her task to learn all she can about both diseases and to use that knowledge to deal successfully with both.

Armed with knowledge, she is able to live a full, useful life. The theme of her message is awareness. To be aware of any change in one's body, noting that even a small black dot can become a serious melanoma if ignored.

Much of Romelle's treatment, including surgery, was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The chemotherapy was done in Fargo. For two months, during out-patient treatment, she and her husband Larry stayed at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in Rochester. The Lodge, open to all cancer patients under treatment, provides lodging and a home-like atmosphere.

There is no cost to any patient or caregiver. There, friendships become close and mutually supportive.

"Because it is a shared experience, there is a special connection" Rommelle says. "The hugs are real and new friendships last a lifetime."

While there, Rommelle involved herself in all the experimental programs for which she was eligible. In this way, her cancer treatment could contribute to discoveries that will help future cancer victims.

Finally, Romelle reaches out to others who are beginning their cancer journeys.

For example, when my brother-in-law, Jim, was diagnosed with serious throat cancer, Romelle sent cards, encouraging him through a difficult treatment process, following that up with a personal call, giving him the comfort of shared experience. She has never met Jim, but reached out to him as she has to many others. A message she shares with others, based on her mother's words as she dealt with MS, is: "Fight it! Don't embrace it! Keep going! Don't let it get you!"

Marky and Rommelle, alike in their optimistic outlook, love of community, and concern for others, are especially suited to represent our East Otter Tail County survivors for 2012.

All cancer survivors, caregivers and the public are invited to join them for a Survivors' Banquet at Mulligan's Restaurant on Monday, July 9. The dinner is free to all cancer survivors. Others may attend for the cost of the meal. Invitations will soon be sent out.

Anyone can get more information and make reservation by calling Ruth or LeRoy Wegscheid at 367-2571 or Judy Kunza at 346-4741.

Please join all of us - survivors and others - on Friday, July 13 for the Relay for Life event at the Perham track. Be part of the opening ceremony and stay around to hear from Marky and Romelle at 9:15 p.m., just before the luminary lighting.

Help us make this, our 18th Relay For Life, the best and most memorable ever.