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Relay for Life celebrates survivors

Shelly Franklin read while Linda Pihlaja lit memorial candles.The 12 candles symbolized 12 months of missing loved ones lost to cancer. Photos by Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

This year's Relay for Life was held indoors the first time in the event's 24-year history in Park Rapids.

"Celebrate, Remember and Fight Back" was the theme of the Relay, which started out with a community picnic.

The highlight was the "Evening of Hope" program held in the Park Rapids Area High School auditorium.

Event organizer Laurie Conzemius said almost $20,000 was raised to help continue the American Cancer Society's fight against through research and education. Conzemius said she hopes people will step forward to keep the relay going so it can celebrate its 25th year in 2019.

The program started out with recognition of each survivor in attendance to cheers of applause from family and friends.

Cancer survivors Maggi and Tony Yerkes were the keynote speakers, sharing their story of a 50-year journey together (see separate story in this issue).

Brittani Boehlke Fiecke, an oncology PA-C at Essentia, told about how her grandmother's unwavering faith in God, strength, love of life and perseverance during her fight with cancer were the inspiration for her career in the oncology field.

Music in the program was filled with messages of how hope and faith can help overcome the fear, pain and loss that cancer can bring.

Sara Swanson sang "Blessings" by Laura Story. The song talks about how we pray for healing but may still go through pain and how the lessons learned can be blessings in disguise.

Adeline and Lydia Bjorklund sang Matina McBride's song "Anyway," with a message of keeping believing and trying when times are hard. "God is great but sometimes life ain't good and when I pray it doesn't always turn it like I think it should but I do it anyway.... It's hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.... Do it anyway."

They also sang "Never Alone" by Lady Antebellum for those who have lost the fight against cancer. "May the angels protect you, troubles neglect you and heaven accept you when it's time to go home."

Lynn Just told how helping a friend or neighbor with cancer can be something as simple as driving someone to a doctor appointment, bringing over a hot meal or being there to listen.

During caregiver recognition there were hugs and a few tears from those in the audience as well.

The ceremony concluded with a ceremony where 12 battery-operated memorial candles were turned on. Each candle symbolized one month of missing those who have lost their fight to cancer: in January as the New Year begins, at Valentine's Day, as winter turns to spring, at Mother's Day and graduations, at Father's Day, at Fourth of July celebrations, when school begins, at Halloween and when there is an empty chair at the Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas celebrations.

Luminaries on stage that were decorated with sparkly glitter, and the names of a survivor or loved one with cancer were lit with glow sticks during the ceremony.

The evening concluded with Andrea Bocelli's song "The Prayer," sung by Sara Swanson and Katie Johanning. "I pray you'll find your light and hold it in your heart.... Let this be our prayer when shadows fill our days. Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace, give us faith so we'll be safe."

Five teams participated in this year's event: the ChemoSabes, Heartland Home Trotters, Hensel Family and Friends, Helen's Angels and Janine and Friends.

Corporate sponsors were the Minnesota Teamsters Local 320 Hubbard County Social Services, CHI St. Joseph's Health, Northview Bank, Essentia Health, Citizens National Bank, Knute Nelson, Harvala Appliance, Northwoods Bank, the Park Rapids American Legion, Arvig, T&M Express and the Park Rapids Enterprise.