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After the survivor's lap, participants released balloons.

Local Relay for Life remembers cancer victims, honors survivors

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MORRIS, Minn. – Before 2011, Joan Spaeth said she was the kind of person who avoided events like the Relay for Life.

“I always thought that if I turned the channel or stayed away from people who had cancer, then I wouldn’t have to deal with it,” said Spaeth, this year’s honorary survivor and speaker at the Relay for Life of Stevens County.

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Everything changed in December 2011 when Spaeth felt a lump in her breast. After spending a couple days convinced it couldn’t be what she thought it was, Spaeth said she “just knew that something wasn’t right.”

Tests confirmed the lump was malignant. Breast cancer.

“Because I’ve had so many dear friends who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, I always wondered what I would do if it was me,” said Spaeth. “You never really know until you go through it, but I had some idea.”

Speath chose to have a double mastectomy, along with radiation and chemotherapy.

Spaeth said she survived because of the support of her family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances across the community.

“I’ve been really, actually, blessed to have this experience,” said Spaeth. “I know it sounds crazy because how can you be blessed to have cancer? But I really was awakened -- my worst fear came true and I had to deal with it. Now, being on the other side, I see things a little bit differently.”

On Friday, July 19, Spaeth was among the 50 cancer survivors who walked the first lap of the 20th annual Relay of Life in Stevens County at Pomme de Terre Park.

So far this year, participants on the 19 teams who participated raised $59,700, said Kayla Hawkinson of the American Cancer Society.

While this amount is down slightly from the amount that was raised last year, Hawkinson said the organizing committee is still optimistic about meeting their goal of $71,000 by the end of August when the period for donations for the year ends.

For more information about Relay for Life or to make a donation, visit www.relayforlife.org/stevenscountymn

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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