Oncology nurses to lead Relay as torchbearers

A trio of Dakota Clinic oncology nurses will lead the charge to triumph over "the monster known as cancer" in Friday's Relay for Life. The Chemo-Sabes - ever-faithful friends in their patients' battles with cancer - are this year's torchbearers. ...

A trio of Dakota Clinic oncology nurses will lead the charge to triumph over "the monster known as cancer" in Friday's Relay for Life.

The Chemo-Sabes - ever-faithful friends in their patients' battles with cancer - are this year's torchbearers.

Kathy Oines, Tia Kocka and Marti Fischer are leading the survivors' walk, spearheading a team of co-workers and family members.

The mission is a reflection of their fervor and compassion for the patients who arrive as strangers, leave as friends.

"I love walking the journey with them," Tia said. "But not just the patient, their families too. We're known as the hugging nurses. Our patients call us their angels. We laugh. We cry. We dance for them. We try to make chemotherapy fun."


"But we know it's not fun," Kathy said. Their shenanigans are geared to lessen the stress and trauma that accompany cancer.

"We're the patient's advocates," Marti explained. "We're patient-centered. We're their eyes and ears. We follow our instincts," which may include suggesting modifications in a patient's palliative or curative care.

"We're seeing more cases," Kathy said, "but we're seeing more miracles."

The nurses work with three internal medical doctors at the clinic, Nikolay Nikolov, Larry Leadbetter and John Lageson, and oncologist Mahendra Gupta, who arrives from Fargo twice a month.

"He relies on us to see changes," Marti explained.

The nurses share a strong spirituality, praying together before beginning their day.

"His voice speaks in our hearts," Kathy said.

"We're told we should not get too close to patients," Marti said. "Oncology is a small community. We're doing what God's given us the ability to do. I follow my heart, to be there for them."


Marti credits Dr. Carson Gardner with preparing her for the "challenging, forever changing" field of oncology. "I've learned priceless lessons about life, values, death and grieving," she said.

"When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, their mindset changes," Tia said. "The disease could kill or they could live."

Cancer patients gain an enlightened perspective to their role on earth. "They teach us," Tia said. "We get more from them than we can give."

"Cancer teaches people on life's walk," Kathy concurred. If the cancer recurs after remission, "it's another chapter in the journey."

'Credit to nursing field'

Gaylord "Buck" and Loraine Bridge are facing that "chapter," Buck's cancer reoccurring after several years in remission.

The Park Rapids couple confronted the question of where to go for treatment - Fargo, Abbott Northwestern or stay in their hometown.

"We decided there was no reason to leave, not to believe," Loraine said of the "accessible, warm, loving, reassuring" treatment they received from the trio of oncology nurses at Park Rapids' Dakota Clinic.


A bit of an anomaly, "they are meticulous about records," yet "their work comes from the heart," Loraine said.

"They are certainly a credit to the nursing field," said Buck, who worked 30 years as a hospital administrator. "It's a difficult job, but they put us at ease."

The Christmas card with the "three angels" wearing reindeer antlers is framed, displayed prominently at the Bridge home.

"In my mind, we couldn't go anywhere else," Loraine said.

Bring Kleenex

The Chemo-Sabes - aka "you-won't-be-aLone Rangers" - are resurrecting the tradition of sending a clinic team to Friday's event, after a four-year hiatus.

The team has concocted a variety of fundraising initiatives for the American Cancer Society, including Chef on a Shoestring.

On a budget of $15, Chef Michael (Schmaus) creates a meal - the most recent soup-bread-dessert menu selling out in 15 minutes.


A flower raffle will add to the coffers as will the team's food booth, hot beef and Italian sandwiches on the menu Friday evening.

Therapeutic chair massages will assuage muscle aches. And team members will be marketing handmade cards and signs with words of wisdom - "Frugal is such an ugly word," for example.

"Our goal is to raise $3,000," Kathy said. "We're inviting everyone to come.

"And bring Kleenex."

Raising spirits, funds

The public is invited to attend Relay for Life, a poignant celebration of life and the journey to find the cure for cancer.

The event will be held from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, June 15 at the Park Rapids Area High School track.

Carnival festivities and a variety of food will be available. Kids can have their face painted, hair braided, try on some fancy flip flops or play games.


And no one will go away hungry.

The menu includes pork sandwiches, fries and tater tots, chili, baked potatoes, nachos, tacos, brats, hot roast beef sandwiches, fruit, homemade ice cream and desserts.

Still hungry? The Hensels are popping popcorn.

The Park Rapids Eye Clinic will entertain with a pie throwing competition. The Scissor Sisters are hosting an auction. Cookbooks will be on sale and Citizens National Bank will raffle a quilt.

The survivor walk and lighting ceremony begin at 8 p.m. featuring bagpiper Brian Solum of Bemidji.

"We see miracles every day," Kathy said. "Our patients are a testament" to the advances being made in cancer treatment.

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