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‘Imagine a world with more birthdays’ is Relay theme

Betty Henshaw will be honored as both survivor and caregiver at this year’s Relay for Life. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)


Each year, more than four million people in communities across the globe raise funds and awareness to save lives through American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

The volunteer-driven event brings together cancer survivors and teams of supporters.

This year’s Park Rapids relay - “To image a world with more birthdays” - will salute both those who’ve battled the disease and caregivers.

A caregivers’ lap will follow the poignant 7 p.m. survivor walk at the Friday, June 14 event on the Vern Weekley Field.

Betty Henshaw, 58, will be heading round the track twice, honored for both roles.

Betty was first diagnosed with cancer, a malignant melanoma, in 1991. She was visiting her sister, Bonnie Speigel, who’s a nurse in Iowa, and was dressed in shorts. Bonnie spotted a mole on her leg and recommended she make a doctor’s appointment. Doctors confirmed her sister’s suspicion and surgery was performed.

In 1999, undergoing a routine check, the doctor removed another mole, also found to be malignant. No radiation or chemo was necessary, Betty considering herself to be “very lucky in that respect.”

Moving back to Park Rapids in the fall of 1995, she vividly recalls the double rows of luminaries lining the track at the Relay for Life the following summer.

“It was awesome,” she said of the outpouring of support shown by the community.

Meanwhile, the Coborn’s employee became a caregiver for her parents. Her mother, Shirley, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in 2002 and her father, Dick, also battles cancer.

Her sister, Mary Ann, died in 2004, succumbing to a brain tumor at 51. And other members of the family battled the pernicious disease.

In January, Betty’s primary role in battles with cancer would return to “victim,” learning on her 58th birthday she had breast cancer.

Dr. Dan Smith, in San Francisco at the time, called to let her know of the biopsy results, subsequently recommending a double mastectomy.

“Double really hit me,” Betty recalls. “It was hard to decide. So much goes through your head.” Smith explained the dense breast tissue made detection of cancerous cells difficult. “I prayed I’d make all the right decisions.” A subsequent biopsy proved the recommendation to be correct.

“You think it’s a dream,” Shirley said of cancer diagnosis. “But it isn’t.”

No chemotherapy or radiation was required after the mastectomy, which paradoxically stirred guilt in Betty, who’s witnessed people enduring the grueling effects of treatment.

“The Lord was on our side,” Shirley said.

“I couldn’t have done it without family, friends and coworkers,” Betty said. Coborn’s employees, who organized a dinner and silent auction on her behalf, boosted not only her finances but her spirit.

“This community is so great…”

Teams at the Relay for Life take on the roles of a support group, the Henshaws agree.

“It’s not like a ballgame,” Betty said of competing players. But rather a time of sharing, consoling and encouragement.

This year’s 19th annual Relay for Life, to be held from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., will send 20 teams of survivors, caregivers, family members and volunteers around the track.

Participants will “Imagine a world with more birthdays – celebrate, remember and fight back” as the American Cancer Society marks its 100th year.

Funds raised benefit cancer research, as well as programs such as Hope Lodge, Road to Recovery, Reach to Recovery and the Patient Navigator Program.

The caregivers walk recognizes their role as a vital part of a cancer patient’s journey. A caregiver is anyone who helped a patient in any way. This may be the person driving them to treatment, who’s brought food to the home, held their hand during treatment or offered prayers.

Caregivers and survivors are asked to register under the big tent in the center of the track by 6:30 p.m.

A survivor is any person who’s been diagnosed with cancer, welcome to participate even while on treatment. Survivors are a reminder that a cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

Relay for Life team members raise funds before and during the event, including the sale of luminaries.

The day of the relay, teams will have sites set up around the track selling tacos, pizza, hot dogs, chili dogs, hamburgers, French fries and homemade ice cream sandwiches. A silent auction with donations from each team will also add funds.

Live music and a DJ will add to the ambiance of the event.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life “represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated.”