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Meet the 2022 Otter Tail Relay for Life honorary co-chairs

Perham's Beau Johnson and Ron Anderson were both selected as the honorary co-chairs for the 2022 Otter Tail Relay for Life, which will be July 8.

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Balloons display the word "hope" from the 2021 Otter Tail Relay for Life, a word that inspires 2022 Honorary Co-Chair Ron Anderson.
Perham Focus file photo
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PERHAM — This time of year is not only to raise funds for cancer treatment and research, but to also honor the lives of those lost to cancer and celebrate the many survivors.

With the 2022 Otter Tail Relay for Life scheduled to raise funds for the American Cancer Society right around the corner, two Perham cancer survivors were selected as this year's relay honorary co-chairs: Ron Anderson and Beau Johnson.

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Ron Anderson, a Perham resident since the 1960s, is one of the honorary co-chairs for the 2022 Otter Tail Relay for Life.
Contributed / Photo Magic of Perham

Anderson, originally from Hibbing, Minn., moved to Perham in the 1960s. While he traveled around a little bit before that, he just fell in love with the Perham area. Since then, he's stayed. While he's loved his life in central Minnesota, it wasn't all bliss — especially when it comes to cancer.

His history with cancer spans back through many years. In fact, almost every family member he lost died from cancer. And personally, he's no stranger to the struggle.

"For many years, I've had a little problem with basal cell carcinomas," Anderson explained. "They're little precancerous growths that you might get that are very easy to deal with. They can be burned or excised."

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About three years ago, however, dealing with it became a little less easy. At an appointment, Anderson's physician told him that this one couldn't be removed simply since it was too large to handle locally. Because of that, Sanford sent him to a surgeon to get it surgically removed.

"And so, there's just nothing left," he continued. "I won't have to worry about it anymore." Now a survivor, he participates in the Survivor's Lap at the Relay, and this year, as an honorary co-chair, he'll deliver a speech to the crowd.

Prior to even this experience, however, Anderson has a long history with the Relay for Life. He and his wife had always been involved with the American Cancer Society.

They first heard about the Relay for Life about 30 years ago, when it was brand new. At the time, it was just starting out in the west of Otter Tail in Fergus Falls. So, Anderson and his wife drove there to check it out.

"We thought, 'Wow, that's a really, really, really nice thing,'" Anderson remembered. "And so we brought the idea back. And over that year, they let us organize it. And so, we began that — she and I."

They worked hard together at organizing teams and getting the field reserved. At the end of the fundraiser, they'd made about $7,000 for the American Cancer Society. Now, in 2022, their goal is to raise $130,000.

Throughout the last 30 or so years since his first Relay, the event has come to mean a lot to Anderson. For him, it's powerful. He remembers a time when he saw a little girl at the relay, who was very sick with cancer. She was crouching down on the ground, holding a candle with her name.

One year, a friend of Anderson's, who'd been part of the relay before, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He told everyone he'd make it for one more relay, and he did. He made it, and died only a few days later.

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Thinking back on these stories makes Anderson emotional, but they also make him think of hope. Sometimes, hope is all you have, he said, and for many, the Relay for Life provides that hope. Because of that, Anderson thanks everyone who comes out and joins.

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Beau Johnson, a recent graduate from Perham High School, is an honorary co-chair for the 2022 Otter Tail Relay for Life.
Perham Focus file photo

Cancer definitely affects everyone differently. Many say it doesn't discriminate. For the other 2022 honorary co-chair, Beau Johnson, cancer looked very different.

When he was around 8 years old, he found a lump on his neck. He remembers going up to his mom, as 8-year-olds often do, and start complaining. At the time, she assumed it was a ploy to let him sleep in her bed; he laughed remembering this.

His mother, however, decided that it was a good idea to go to the doctor to get the lump checked out. At first, they thought he just had swollen lymph nodes, but the doctor recommended that Johnson get a second diagnosis and maybe even a biopsy.

"So, we went to the Sanford hospital, and I got a biopsy there," Johnson recalled. "And they sat me and my parents down, and they said, 'Your kid has cancer.' I knew it was world-shaking for me. I didn't really know what cancer was, (but) I knew my grandmother had passed away from it, and that it was a scary thing that could kill you."

He continued, "But 8-year-olds, they just have such innocence. So I just saw my parents crying, and I put my hands on their laps and said, 'I'm going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay.'"

Johnson was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor in his neck, which, according to him, is about a two-in-one-million chance. Having a desmoid tumor is super rare, and getting a tumor near your spinal cord or by your neck is super rare. These together made Johnson's experience a very scarce one.

Because the tumor was so close to Johnson's spinal cord, the doctors were worried it could paralyze him. So, they decided to remove half of it and see how everything else progressed.

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"And then I had surgery on my ninth birthday," Johnson laughed. "Great birthday present though — getting a tumor out."

Unfortunately, at the age of 10, Johnson's tumor started growing again. He and his family had to travel down to Indiana for two months, so he could receive radiation. Luckily, the treatment worked, and Johnson has been cancer free for eight years. Though he doesn't want to give cancer the credit, he thinks the experience shaped him into who he is today.

He had some advice for kids who may currently be facing cancer: "As cheesy as it sounds, things get better," he shared. "Rely on your parents. Make sure that you have that support system because every kid is different… every cancer treatment is different. Stay strong. Make sure you're surrounding yourself with people that you care about and people that care about you."

Johnson believes that this is how he stayed strong. During his treatment, the entire town of Perham had his back. They raised funds for him, made sure his friends were there, and even made sure he could get to his appointments. That support system was and still is very important to him.

When he went to the Relay for Life in the midst of his cancer diagnosis, he remembers being a little scared until an elderly woman approached him. They walked the tracks together that year, and they walked it together for about three years afterward. Now, he himself gets to be a mentor to those who may need him.

"(When asked to be an honorary co-chair) I guess I was nervous at first, but honestly, I was super honored," Johnson said. "Out of everyone they could have asked, they decided to ask me, and it means a lot… It really means a lot that I have that platform to speak to people and have others see me as an inspiration and a joy for their own life because that's what I want to be. I just want to help people."

Both Anderson and Johnson will speak at the Relay for Life, which starts on Friday, July 8 at 6 p.m. at Perham Track and Field on 200 Fifth Street S.E. For more information, visit relayforlife.org/ottertailmn or contact Lisa Peterson at lpeterson@frazee.k12.mn.us or 218-371-7174. Dedicate a luminaria either online or through Peterson.

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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