Cancer 'Survivors Dinner' was biggest ever

The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life celebration got off to a great start July 10, with its Survivor Dinner at Mulligan's Restaurant. The East Ottertail Relay Dinner is the biggest in the state of Minnesota. it is probably also the most s...

The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life celebration got off to a great start July 10, with its Survivor Dinner at Mulligan's Restaurant. The East Ottertail Relay Dinner is the biggest in the state of Minnesota. it is probably also the most spirited.

Some 230 cancer survivors and caregivers turned out to hear featured speaker Donnie Braun give a moving message of hope. Again, KLN Enterprises sponsorship of the event made it possible.

"We can do this tribute to cancer survivors because of Ken Nelson's continuing generous support for the banquet." remarked Judy Kunza, this years chairperson of the event. "The music by Jake and His Friends, the awards for special contributions to the fight against cancer, and Donnie's speech really made this an exciting evening."

Jake and His Friends (Jake Muszynski, Dusty Dertinger, Coleman Silberngael, and Abram Silbernagel) performed both before and after the dinner. The high quality of their performance is a credit to the quality of the PHS choir program and their talent. It set the mood for the evening.

Next, it was time to present special awards. Judy Wanderi, cancer survivor, presented the Employer of the Year award to Perham Public Schools, with Supt. Tamara Uselman accepting the award. She nominated the school district because of their understanding of her battle with cancer, their compassion, and their willingness to adjust workloads to meet the demands of treatment. Each year the Relay committee recognizes a person(s) who have made substantial efforts in the war against cancer. Past winners include sen. Dallas Sams, then-Rep. Kevin Goodno, Cheryl Rutten and her STOP group, and Dr. Rand Stolee.


The awards went this year to two Relay activists, Shelly Rehm and LeRoy Wegscheid, both of who now face some serious physical problems.

LeRoy Wegscheid in many ways is the heart of the Relay. He has organized several teams, has been an Honorary Co-chair, led the Survivor's committee, and presented sessions at the state Relay University. Sally Roe, in presenting the award, said, "He gives so much of himself to help others - always. I remember him often saying, 'We've got to beat this thing.' He has a knack for motivating people to action. Truly he is the heart of our Relay." Shelly Dreyer, LeRoy's daughter, accepted the award for him, as he could not attend because of illness.

Shelly Rehm is also a former Honorary Co-Chair. She is now under treatment for a reoccurance of her cancer. She has been a member of the Relay committee and the Survivors' committee. Presenting the award, Lisa Peterson said, "Shelly always kept us organized. She organized survivors' lists, made sure programs were printed, and provided a lot of energy to our efforts. She is so faithful - she gives all she can give to ending cancer. She has been totally involved." Shelly, in accepting the award, replied, "We all need to join the battle against cancer If we commit to a full effort, we will eliminate cancer, and it will be soon."

The high point of a wonderful evening was Donnie Braun's presentation. He spoke about getting cancer when he was only 23 years old - and just when he thought it was gone it returned. He had a bone marrow transplant, and he hoped that it would work. It didn't. The cancer returned a third time, and the doctor's gave him 18 months to live. His response? He humorously replies, "change doctors." He was determined not to let this get to him. Almost miraculously, the cancer went away. He has been cancer free for more than 5 years. Seeing Donnie now, at age 34, and his energy and enthusiasm for life, it's hard to believe he is a three-time survivor. Donnie's outlook to life is unapologetically optimistic - he will not let the little things get him down. He keeps a picture of himself in bed, very sick with cancer, with no hair, sores, and little energy. It is a daily reminder that his worst day today is infinitely better than a day with cancer. He also is more appreciative of the little things he took for granted - the beauty of the world around him. Good things do happen to good people. While sick with cancer, his oncology nurse became his friend. The friendship led to love, and Donnie and Robin married. The doctors told him he would never have children; they have two boys, 4 and 2, who bring joy to Robin and Donnie's lives. His is a message of hope and the strength of the human spirit.

The evening closed with everyone standing and joining in the singing of "Survivors' Song." It's singing is traditionally the last event of the banquet. The lyrics are by Lisa Peterson with music by Russell Bunker. Concluded Ron Anderson, "We've had a great time, we developed new friendship bonds, we are energized and ready to Relay! The banquet is great - and now we need to work on a year-round survivorship program. There's alot of good stuff we can do."

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