Although the 2022 Honorary Co Chairs for the Relay For Life of Otter Tail County are separated in age by almost seven decades, their stories both contain elements of history and hope. They look forward to representing cancer survivors in Otter Tail County at this Friday night’s Relay For Life of Otter Tail at the Perham High School track.
Ron Anderson’s involvement in the Relay For Life of East Otter Tail goes back almost 30 years, when he and his wife, Dee, orchestrated the very first Relay here. They had been active in the American Cancer Society prior to that, then went to see what a Relay For Life involved through visiting the Relay For Life of West Otter Tail.
The Anderson’s first Relay in East Otter Tail involved seven teams and raised about $7,000. Since then, the Relayfor Life has grown to 20+ teams and has raised over $120,000 each year for the past five years.
Anderson is passionate about the Relay because, “it’s an important cause. In the nation, cancer is the #2 cause of death, and in Minnesota, it’s the number one cause.” Both Ron’s father and Dee’s father died from cancer, as did Dee’s sister and most of Ron’s relatives, and he wants to do all he can to fight back against cancer.
“The Relay is very worthwhile. It raises awareness about cancer, and it brings a message of hope,” said Anderson
Andersons’s personal cancer journey started in the mid-80’s, when Dr. Rand Stolee urged him to start getting yearly skin checks. At every yearly skin check, there was always a number of areas that needed to be cut out or burned off.
Although Anderson was told these were basal cell cancer growths, he was reluctant to call himself a “cancer survivor.” He felt this was a small cancer, not consequential.
The Survivors Committee Chairs were persistent in their efforts to get Anderson to call himself a cancer survivor, and he walked the Survivors Lap for the first time about five years ago. Last summer, this felt even more real, when Dr. Disse told Anderson he had a spot on his scalp that he didn’t feel comfortable cutting, and Ron had to go to a surgeon in Fargo, N.D. The surgery went well, and Ron has become even more cautious about sun exposure.
“It’s really important to look at the risk factors,” said Anderson. “If you are fair-skinned and are in the sun a lot, you need to get checked.” Ron’s fair complexion, combined with a history of painting houses outdoors each summer, most likely led to his basal cell carcinoma. “Cover up, wear a hat, wear a shirt.”
Anderson looks forward to sharing his story at the Relay, and he is excited to see the sites at the Relay for Life that always inspire hope in him.
“If you walk the Relay at night and see how others respond to the luminaries and the spirit of the evening, you can see the importance of HOPE when dealing with cancer,” he said.
Beau Johnson’s story is also one of hope – and of history.
Johnson’s own personal cancer journey began when he was eight years old, but there is a great deal of cancer in his family history. His maternal grandma died when Johnson was an infant; his great uncle died in his 30s, and his great grandparents both died from cancer. Doubtless, a diagnosis of cancer in her young child had to be incredibly frightening for his mom.
Johnson’s cancer surfaced as a desmoid tumor in his neck. This type of tumor is usually not cancerous, but Beau’s was deemed dangerous because the tumor could grow into the spine and brain and could cause paralysis.
On Johnson’s ninth birthday, he underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove the tumor. Doctors needed to remove half of his neck muscles to get to the tumor. Even so, they were not able to get all of the tumor because it was too close to the spine. Johnson went on his way, but the tumor began growing back a year later.
This time, Johnson and his parents had to go to Bloomington, Indiana, for a two month period so Johnson could receive radiation. He stated that his radiation treatment was called Proton radiation, and that isn’t even done anymore because there are newer radiation treatments that are so much better. Beau is happy to report that the tumor is dead and should not grow back. He gets checkups once a year, with an MRI, and the scans have repeatedly been clear. He has been in remission for eight years.
When asked what he remembers of his childhood cancer experience, Johnson said, “I remember my first chemo treatment at Children’s Hospital (Minneapolis) and being sick.I remember playing PacMan with my dad at Children’s.”
Thankfully, the 34 weeks of low dose chemo treatments brought about no hair loss, and he never missed a week of roller skating. Johnson also remembers sitting with his parents at Sanford Clinic when they were told he had cancer; he remembers seeing them crying.
Johnson tried to make them feel better and assured them he would be all right. He remembers that his aunts on his dad’s side recommended getting a second opinion, which led them to Children’s Hospital. Johnson speaks very highly of the doctors at Children’s Hospital—and all of his doctors.
“They are so kind, so great with kids. I have a bond with all of them.”
Johnsonalso is thankful and appreciative of his teachers from that period of his life.
“They were so patient with me and my getting schoolwork done. They knew some subjects were harder for me and would take me more time to learn, and they were understanding,” he said.
On the top of Johnson’s list of those to thank would be his parents. “They have been my biggest support, always supporting me through the whole thing.”
When asked if he has any wisdom or advice to impart based on his cancer experience, Johnson said, “Surround yourself with good people – like parents. Be patient with your progress; things will turn out well in the end. Have an open and happy mindset.”