Walk hits strideThe Relay for Life of Douglas County is hitting its stride this year. The annual fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society in Douglas County is marking two milestones.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
The Relay for Life of Douglas County is hitting its stride this year.
The annual fundraising effort for the American Cancer Society in Douglas County is marking two milestones.
From its first steps 20 years ago, the annual event has raised $1 million toward the journey to end cancer.
Joann O’Brien said the effort was $106 dollars short of that mark, but volunteers pooled their resources to put them over the top on April 4.
For the first couple years, the Relay for Life was held at Ole Haugsrud Field and counted the money in the ticket booth, said Leesa Krisak, who has participated in the annual overnight walk on and off since she was a child. Over the last seven years, she has been there every year, after her best friend who co-sponsored a team lost her battle with cancer.
“A group just got together and decided to try the relay,” said Anna Hanson, who has been with the walk from the very beginning 20 years ago. “Lydia (Miller) and I have been here since the Day 1 but we weren’t the organizers.”
For Miller, getting involved was the result of facing a very personal battle after being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1992.
“I don’t remember if I was honorary chair or honorary survivor, but I was a breast cancer survivor … I was very eager to share my story and get people to raise funds to fight the disease,” Miller said.
And it’s a fight that is being won, one step at a time.
O’Brien worked with Miller’s husband, Bill, when Miller was diagnosed. She said she remembered thinking about her own mother’s experience with the disease and believing that would be Lydia Miller’s fate.
And she was so young, and he was a basket case, O’Brien said.
While O’Brien’s mother was diagnosed when she was born, it was another five years before doctors performed a mastectomy, when the tumor was “the size of a goose egg.” Five years later, when O’Brien was 10, her mother died from the disease.
However, Miller said she went through the treatments and 20 years later, she’s healthy and still juggling a busy schedule of going to work, picking up and feeding her grandchildren, before swapping cars with her husband so he can take the children to their play while she heads to a planning meeting to prepare for the 20th annual relay.
This year the goal is $107,000.
“I just kind of fell into it,” Hanson said. She had been involved in fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society as treasurer for the old Jail and Bail, before the Relay for Life got its start in Douglas County.
Touched by cancer, Hanson said it was the good the American Cancer Society was doing that has kept her involved over the years.
“I have always felt it was a worthwhile cause,” said Hanson, who lost her mother to breast cancer and an aunt to cancer.
Living on a farm, Miller said as a child, she would go with her mother to raise money for the American Cancer Society because it was fun; it wasn’t until she was diagnosed that she realized her mother did so because her grandmother had died of cancer before she was born.
“The funds she raised back in the 50s and 60s is what did the research and knew how to treat me when I was diagnosed in 1992,” the 20-year survivor said of her mother’s efforts. Since then, she’s been working to give back for the efforts that came before her.
“Everyone is touched by cancer — no one escapes,” Hanson said of the disease. She said when you see the survivors, you realize there is a lot of good that comes from the research funded by the effort.
“A strong sense of community springs up that is fighting for the same cause,” Miller said of the walks.
Hanson said she has been amazed by the amount of money raised, even in the last few years with the downturn in the economy and the lingering effects. Last year, the effort raised about $105,000.
Krisak corrected that figure. Every year, she or another volunteer always make sure that total ends in a penny.
“Every penny counts,” Krisak said.
“Somehow, cancer has touched everyone,” Miller said. And surviving has jumped in recent years. “When I was diagnosed, I thought it was a death sentence … now there are cancers they can cure.”
For information, to start a team or join one, go to www.relayforlife.org/superiorwi.
“They can join my team,” Krisak said. “We’re pretty cool.”