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Relay for Life chairwomen share their cancer survival stories

The Relay for Life of East Otter Tail event, Friday, July 12, celebrates cancer survivors and their caregivers and loved ones. Today, Relay honorary co-chairwomen Laurie Bach and Lora Rogers, both residents of New York Mills, share their own canc...

Laurie Bach
Laurie Bach

The Relay for Life of East Otter Tail event, Friday, July 12, celebrates cancer survivors and their caregivers and loved ones.

Today, Relay honorary co-chairwomen Laurie Bach and Lora Rogers, both residents of New York Mills, share their own cancer journeys. Both women feel a special connection to this year's theme, "Saving Lives and Creating Change, One Step At A Time."

An advocate for prevention

Laurie Bach began telling her story by saying, "I can't believe how perfectly this theme fits my cancer journey!" In particular, Laurie emphasized the parallels between her experience and the words "changing lives" and "one step at a time."

Laurie's breast cancer diagnosis on Feb. 22, 2018, came as a surprise. In the previous five years, Laurie experienced four family members receiving cancer diagnoses, but she felt certain that she was free from those cancers, as they were gender- or habit/health-related. And there was no history of breast cancer in her family.

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However, Laurie's career in health care has made her a huge advocate for prevention, and her insistence on yearly mammograms (rather than biennial mammograms, as has been recommended) led to an early diagnosis of her cancer which was detected at Stage 1.

"If we had waited for someone to feel" a lump, Laurie said, "it would have been a higher stage."

Although the diagnosis of cancer was devastating, Laurie tried to be positive. She said "the sooner you flip from 'woe is me' to 'what can I do?', the better." Laurie's cancer treatment began with surgery, which was followed up with high-dose radiation.

Despite her positive attitude, Laurie viewed her upcoming radiation treatments with some fear. After caring for her dad for five months and witnessing the damage radiation can cause, it wasn't easy to be positive. In addition, Laurie's tumor was so close to the chest cavity that, to avoid damage to her heart and lungs, Laurie's radiation treatments required her to lie face-down on a table, with only a little hole to look through for the length of each treatment.

"I made preparations to be able to be at peace through these treatments," Laurie said. "I memorized a Bible verse, then meditated on that verse and prayed as I lay there each time." She also asked her grandchildren to color pictures for her, and she entered each radiation treatment with a new colored picture to look at through the peephole. Cards of support and encouragement from family, church, work and community also came with her to treatment and brought her strength as she focused on them through the peephole.

And she used her treatment time to pray for others. Even though each treatment would hurt worse, Laurie was able to approach them with a sense of peace, knowing God was holding her and feeling strengthened by many prayers.

When radiation was finished, Laurie's doctor gave her the choice to do chemotherapy or not. On June 3, 2018, just as Laurie was struggling to make that decision, the results of the TAILORx study were released. This study examined Oncotype DX scores for risk of cancer recurrence and who would benefit most from chemotherapy. Laurie's oncotype score of 19 was in the area of uncertainty if chemotherapy is beneficial. The results of the study confirmed that chemotherapy had absolutely no beneficial results for women with oncotype scores of one to 25.

"I didn't have to decide!" Laurie said. "This is so huge, for so many women!

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"This one study will save thousands of lives," Laurie said. "That's the 'one step at a time and the changing lives' that I've seen, first-hand. I am the direct result of the importance of funding cancer research."

Laurie's recovery from her cancer journey has taken some time, as the radiation was very tough on her. "I finally started feeling good in May," she said. She's also healthier, as she and her husband have begun to eat much healthier. Laurie feels such gratitude for all the people who prayed for her, sent cards, gave hugs, brought meals or drove her to treatments. She is thankful to have a loving husband and a caring community of friends and co-workers who helped her through.

But Laurie isn't content to just take care of herself. She is an advocate for prevention-so much that she routinely talks with clients and other women about making sure to get in for yearly mammograms. She'd also like to see more women involved in the medical end of breast cancer treatment, as there is a lot of trauma and discomfort that could be alleviated if the doctor knew what the procedures felt like. She has a future goal (for retirement) of becoming a mentor to women who are newly diagnosed, to help them feel at peace throughout the whole process. "I would love to help someone else through this," Laurie said.

Faith made stronger

For Lora Rogers, the part of the theme that resonates with her is the "one step at a time." She said, "I believe that 'one step at a time' is crucial in all parts of dealing with a cancer diagnosis."

Lora's cancer journey began six years ago, when she found a lump in her breast. Although the initial biopsy was negative, she was instructed to come back in three months; a few months after that, she was informed that she had breast cancer.

The diagnosis of cancer was initially devastating, but Lora quickly began believing she could fight through this. She began months of chemotherapy, followed by two surgeries, then 30 days of radiation. She was inspired by the cancer survivors she saw at the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo and realized she wasn't in this fight alone.

Even so, Lora's treatment was grueling. During treatment, her white blood cells got too low, and she had to be hospitalized. She had to take a year off of work at the preschool due to a low immune system. Lora's cancer battle was tough enough to make her concerned about the possibility of a recurrence.

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While it is exciting to be cancer-free for five years, Lora says she still feels anxious every time she goes in for a check-up. "It's the fear of the unknown." Lora feels a great sense of compassion for those who receive a new cancer diagnosis. "I just want to take away the pain they feel as they hear this," she said. "When I hear of their diagnosis, I begin to tear up and I place them in my prayers. Prayer is healing for me-it comes from the heart."

Lora is quick to credit the support of the community, family, friends, and the power of prayer as her anchors in helping her get through her many weeks of chemotherapy, her surgery, and her radiation. "The support from the community was wonderful-almost overwhelming at times," Lora said. A great deal of this support came through prayer, which Lora asserts is one of the biggest keys to her recovery and being cancer free. She could feel the prayers people sent up for her, and she believes that prayer is part of the healing process.

While Lora is grateful for the assistance she got for her trips to radiation, she wishes a radiation center could be available closer to home and would love to see this become a reality. She also feels the Relay For Life is a very inspirational event; "It is breathtaking to see all the luminaries lit up."

Today, Lora is happy to be cancer-free for five years. She looks back on her experience and can identify some good things that have come out of the ordeal. "My faith is stronger," Lora said.

She also has learned to be less regimented and stressed-out by time. "I used to be a 'do it today' person. Now I've realized that those things aren't so important and they don't have to be done today. Cancer changes your outlook on life. Family and spending time with those you love is what's important." That's why the "one step at a time" part of the theme resonated so strongly for her. Lora says, "I try to live one day at a time, concentrating on each moment and being grateful for the time I have been given with those who mean the most to me."

If you go

Join honorary co-chairwomen Laurie Bach and Lora Rogers and other East Otter Tail cancer survivors at the Relay For Life of East Otter Tail on Friday, July 12, at the Perham High School track. Activities begin at 5:30 p.m., Opening Ceremony and Survivors' Lap at 7 p.m., and Luminary Ceremony at 9:15 p.m. There is no admission fee, and there's food and fun for all ages.

Laura Rogers
Laura Rogers

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