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Guthrie woman benefits from Audrey's dream

Natascha Smrekar (Photo by Jean Ruzicka/ Enterprise)

The 8th annual Audrey's Purple Dream - Akeley's answer to cancer - will be held Saturday, Feb. 9 on 11th Crow Wing Lake.

Proceeds from the event, that includes a fishing tourney and a plunge by daring divers into 11th Crow Wing Lake, benefit area residents whose lives have been impacted by cancer.

Audrey's Purple Dream is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Faye Pidde, a lifelong resident of Akeley who died in March 2005 after a battle with cancer.

The event's founder, Melissa 'Nib' Niblick, organized the community fundraiser in honor of her friend. One of Pidde's wishes had been to travel to Alaska; Niblick took on the role of fundraiser to fulfill the dream.

Pidde succumbed to cancer before she could make the journey, and Niblick died of cancer in 2009, but the "dream" lives on.

To date, more than 40 people have been gifted with a total of $37,000 since 2006, Shannah Geimer, Pidde's daughter, reports.

The circumstances have ranged from a man diagnosed with a terminal illness who wanted to spend his last days with his young son to flying grandparents in from out of state to see their granddaughter, a cancer survivor, graduate.

Another gift helped with the purchase of a vehicle to get to and from treatments. Funds have also been used toward medical expenses, to build a wheelchair ramp or taking a vacation to visit family members for the last time.

Overwhelmed by generosity

Natascha Smrekar, 45, of Guthrie, diagnosed with sarcoma last fall, was "flattered and stunned" when asked if she would like to be a recipient by her co-workers, Andrea Thelin and Kellie Smith, Pidde's neice, of Akeley.

Smrekar was aware of Audrey's Purple Dream, "but it never occurred to me" that she would one day become a beneficiary.

"I was speechless," she said of the monetary "no-strings-attached" gift.

The wife and mother of two who works as an interventionist at the Laporte School, began experiencing hip pain while training for a half-marathon in July.

An x-ray showed nothing so she headed off to the Boundary Waters with pals, "popping Ibuprofen" to combat persistent pain.

Returning home, she headed back to the clinic, requesting physical therapy as a possible solution.

"There's something more going on here," the therapist told her, recommending an MRI. Sept. 12, she learned of a fracture in her femur, which came as "no surprise." She also learned of a mass near a gluteal muscle, also no surprise. "I felt like I was sitting on a golf ball."

A chest x-ray revealed a mass in the lung. "If a sarcoma metastasizes, it often shows up in the lungs," Smrekar would learn.

"I don't want to touch this," her doctor told her of the lung x-ray, referring Smrekar to the "experts" at the Mayo Clinic.

Oct. 1 Smrekar learned of her the diagnosis and that she would be treated for Ewing's sarcoma, an aggressive form.

"Sarcoma typically hits juveniles. The odds of survival are against me," she said of her prognosis of less than 25 percent. "But I'm hoping to be the one in four. I'm still going for the cure."

After her first round of chemo, she broke her leg, which exacerbated the therapy process. A hematoma developed, another complication.

From the beginning, husband Jay and Natascha have been upfront with their children, son Jesse, 13, and daughter Tatiana, 15.

"I hope you don't have to do chemo," her son told her.

"Jesse, I will be lucky if I get to do chemo," she told him. Smrekar has undergone three to date.

Meanwhile, the treatments in the Twin Cities were creating chaos on the home front.

The owner of a Christmas tree farm would be in the metro during a key point in the season.

She and Jay discussed their options. For many area families, the farm had become part of their holiday tradition, replete with horse-drawn sleigh rides and cookies and cider. And the wreaths she created each year might be abandoned.

But sleigh master Andy Branham of Turtle River "took it upon himself to organize the volunteers and run the farm.

"The community enveloped us with support," surprising the two metro transplants who'd never experienced this type of outreach.

The holiday custom continued in the county's northern realm.

While the Smrekars are "blessed" to have good health insurance, they still face deductibles, hotel bills, travel costs and other contingencies.

"We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people, their prayers, their thoughtfulness. We feel so blessed. I so hope, when it's all said and done, that I can repay, as generously and giving as people have been to me.

"It's one of the beautiful things about this area. People have surrounded us with love and support."

Area residents whose lives have been impacted by cancer may request assistance by contacting First National Bank-Akeley and request an application for assistance or download forms at www.audreyspurple

Donations may be sent to Walker Area Foundation with APD in the memo line, PO Box 272, Akeley, MN 56433.

Icecapades info

Audrey's Purple Dream fishing tournament registration will be held from 10 a.m. to noon with the tourney held from noon to 3 p.m.

A complete list of rules is available on the Audrey's Purple Dream website.

Purple Plunge registration (for the daring willing to take a dip in the lake) begins at 12:30 p.m. in the tent on the lake. The plunge begins at 2 p.m.

Raffle tickets and merchandise will be for sale in the tent from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The $2 buttons enters names into a drawing for an $800 grand prize. Check out the website for a complete list of prizes to be awarded.

Hot food will be served at the Akeley VFW beginning at 4 p.m., with tournament awards and prizes presented at 4:30 p.m. at the VFW. Button raffle drawings begin at 6 p.m.

Live music will entertain from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Audrey's Purple Dream buttons are available at several Akeley area businesses and from members of the "Dream Team." The $2 purchase is entry into a drawing for prizes.