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Honoring the fighters: Relay for Life heads for another strong fundraising year following Perham walk

Emotions naturally run high when cancer touches the lives of people. It is a disease which can be chased off, but it is always a threat to return. So when fundraising events like Relay for Life come along, fear, sadness, courage and love are all ...

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Emotions naturally run high when cancer touches the lives of people.

It is a disease which can be chased off, but it is always a threat to return. So when fundraising events like Relay for Life come along, fear, sadness, courage and love are all on the sidelines waiting to take the field. The Perham High School track and football field complex saw all those emotions Friday as hundreds gathered for the 23rd annual East Otter Tail Relay for Life event.

A central character of the evening was not present for the first time. Robianne Schultz, who died last fall, was eulogized. Schultz had been a fixture at every Relay for Life event she could attend. Her unflagging efforts as an advocate for the group over her 14-year battle with cancer was shared with the crowd by Ellie Beaver of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (CAN) and by EOT Relay for Life Chair Lisa Peterson. Schultz had been politically-motivated before being stricken with cancer, and it made her a strong voice.

"When she wasn't able to work because of cancer treatments and had to go on she chose to go to work with the CAN. This was a natural interest of hers," Peterson said. "She never felt sorry for herself. She would talk about hard chemo and soft chemo. When she had hard chemo she would have to have about four days to recover. She was just a trooper. She never complained about those things."

Beaver, who worked hand in hand with Schultz in lobbying efforts for the ACS, often traveled to Washington, D.C. with her on behalf of cancer victims and their families. Beaver told the crowd that legislators were often moved to action by being face-to-face with a cancer victim like Schultz.

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Peterson contacted her mother, Linda, to ask if there was something the Relay for Life organization could do to help with the funeral arrangements after Schultz died. The answer was "no thanks" - everything had been taken care of. Then she added, "This was something Robi never talked about. She never talked about dying or focused on dying."

Peterson said Monday that even as Schultz approached the end of her life, she was hopeful of a cure for her breast cancer.

One of the most thrilling victories for the Cancer Action Network Friday evening was the recruitment of 88 new members.

"Our goal was 60, and we blew that out of the water," Peterson said.

Many cancer victims like Schultz become soldiers in the fight. Honorary Co-Chairs of the 2018 Relay for Life were Gina Cavanagh and Wade Sjolie. Cavanagh recounted the time three years ago, a week before Mother's Day, when she learned she had breast cancer. She shared her thoughts with the crowd, and like Schultz came to the realization she had been enlisted by a Higher Power to join the fight. She said her religion and her family give her courage and the will to fight. Instead of questioning if she will see her kids graduate, marry and have families of their own, she wants to know she will.

Jodi Sjolie spoke to the crowd on Wade's behalf. Wade is a five-year survivor of Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells which are found in the bone. When they become cancerous and grow out of control it becomes multiple myeloma. It is a painful cancer, but a new chemo treatment has helped him considerably.

Like Cavanagh, Jodi Sjolie talked about how important family is in the fight against cancer. The Sjolies have 10 grandchildren - 10 reasons to fight for life.

The EOT Relay for Life had raised $122,642 for the American Cancer Society on Monday afternoon. As of last Tuesday EOT had $119,000 toward their goal. The local organization ranked second in the nation per capita in raising funds last year with a contribution of $141,500.

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"I believe we will exceed it," Peterson said.

Ron Anderson, the man who started the Relay for Life in Perham, said Friday he is stepping aside for younger people to carry on the relay. Anderson recalled the first Relay for Life which raised in the neighborhood of $5,000 and drew a half dozen teams. Friday's relay saw 21 teams participating. There were 74 cancer survivors taking part in the Survivor's Walk, which is part of the opening ceremony.

"Survivors are why we do this," Peterson said.

For some survivors, it is a challenge to walk that lap around that track.

Money is raised through pledges and the active efforts of these teams at the relay. Peterson estimated that $5,000 of the goal is raised by clubs offering food and activities the night of the event.

The week before the local event Anderson talked about what he felt really motivated those who take part in the Relay for Life.

'It's not so much a fundraiser, but it's an event where people can come and learn and enjoy and get a feeling for what it's all about," Anderson said.

People can still contribute to the EOT Relay for Life through Aug. 25. To contact Peterson call 218-346-4747.

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