Relay For Life co‑chairs excited
Though Mike Walsh and Jane Walsh, who are not related, had heard about the Relay for Life of New Richmond before this year, neither of them have ever taken part or attended a relay before.
This year, Mike and Jane will be the Honorary Co-Chairs for the Relay, and they are both excited to experience the festivities for the first time.
“I’m really looking forward to the Relay for Life and being a part of that,” Jane said. “The support and kindness of people has amazed me. I think to go and be part of something like the Relay for Life helps you see the good in humanity.”
According to Relay for Life of New Richmond Publicity Chair Jill Foster, each Honorary Co-Chair serves as the ambassador of the Relay in the community and they write up a bit of their story for the Relay For Life program and give a speech at the Relay event.
“They are survivors and that’s the only qualification for being a cochair,” Foster said. “We know both of them have interesting stories to tell, are charismatic speakers and they said yes.”
The relay starts at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 13 and goes until 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, with events being held throughout the 24 hour period. Opening ceremonies for the relay start at 6 p.m. on Friday, where Mike Walsh will give his speech, the survivors will be introduced and the survivors will take a lap around the track. This year’s theme is Halloween since the relay falls on Friday the 13th, with the tagline “Cancer Fears the Walker.” Children from ages 0-12 are invited to dress in costume and trick or treat from 7-8 p.m. at the team campsites around the track. There will also be a costume contest at 8 p.m. with three age group categories. The Luminaria Ceremony will take place at 10 p.m., where Jane Walsh will give her speech and the survivors will take another lap around the track. The silent auction will goes from 2-10:30 p.m. with the banner contest taking place at 9 a.m. followed by the closing ceremonies at noon on Saturday. For more information on the event, visit relayforlife.org/newrichmondwi.
For Jane, who is 48 and mother to three grown men, finding out she had breast cancer on April 11, 2013, came during a period of her life when she was already grieving the loss of her longtime boyfriend Derril Yerigan.
“I had just gone in for a routine mammogram and they called me back and wanted to take a couple more pictures,” Jane said. “At the time, I didn’t think much about going back in, but when they called back they told me that I had breast cancer. And in addition to that, I was still grieving over the loss of my significant other, Derril Yerigan, who died from a heart attack while scuba diving a little over a year before.”
A week after being diagnosed, Jane had a double mastectomy and started chemotherapy. She is still taking treatments, but will have her last one on June 17.
“Things are going very well for me and I’m extremely lucky,” said Jane, who has worked as a wholesaler at Minnesota Life for the last eight years. “When they diagnosed me my cancer was Stage 2, so they caught it early.”
Jane’s saving grace throughout her diagnosis and her treatment has been her family, especially her three boys, Foley Quinn, 31; Brian Quinn, 29; and Cody Walsh, 26. Along with her sons, Jane’s parents, Bonni Lundell and John Walsh; and her siblings John Walsh Jr. and Jodi Saliny, have also been a great comfort to her during her hardest times.
“I was really lucky because I had such a great support system with my parents, my kids and my siblings living in this immediate area,” Jane said. “When my boyfriend passed away, he was the picture of health and he didn’t know he had a narrowing of the arteries, which led to his heart attack. So when I was diagnosed with cancer I thought that Derril’s health issues snuck up on him and killed him because he didn’t know about them. Now, I have health issues, I know what they are and I get to deal with them head on and I get to fight them.”
Another life-changing event that happened almost right after Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer was the birth of her first grandchild. “When I looked up at that little girl I decided that there was no way cancer was going to win,” Jane said. “I knew I wanted to be around to watch that little girl grow up. Just the timing of all these things was really interesting. And another thing that helped me was knowing that, although Derril didn’t get a chance to fight his illness, I have his spirit and attitude with me now, which is helping me fight mine.”
Jane’s sister, Jodi, was her chemo buddy and came with Jane to all of her chemo treatments and doctor visits.
“Everybody has been wonderful, but Jodi sat there at the doctor’s appointments and took notes for me and did what Derril would have done if he had been here,” Jane said.
Jane put together a team for this year’s Relay for Life, called “We’ve Got This,” which will consist of all her immediate family, including Jane’s parents, children and siblings.
“Having the team is good, but the most important part for me is having all of us being together on the team,” Jane said.
Throughout his life, Mike Walsh was never really a person who would ask for help, but when he was diagnosed with cancer in June 2012 he started to realize that he couldn’t do everything on his own.
“You find out rather quickly that you sometimes have to ask people for help,” Mike said. “I still don’t like asking for help and it is a hard thing to get over. I like to do things my way, but now I’ve started to realize that I’m going to need help sometimes and I can’t do everything myself.”
Much like Jane, Mike had no idea he had cancer before he went in to see the doctors for a sore neck that wouldn’t get better.
“It started with me having a sore neck and eventually I decided to go in and get an MRI, which showed a mass,” Mike said. “I saw a neurosurgeon who told me we need to do something about the mass, but we first needed to find out what it was. They did a biopsy and it came back positive for plasmacytoma, which is a group of plasma cells that are cancerous. From there they tested to see if the plasma cells are in your bone marrow and that tested positive as well. Since the cancer is in two locations it is officially diagnosed as multiple myeloma.”
Mike was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is not curable, in June 2012 when he was 62. After being diagnosed, Mike went through radiation to destroy the tumor and then began chemotherapy. Mike, along with his team of doctors, decided that a stem cell transplant would be the best course of action for him. However, because Mike’s form of cancer causes high levels of bad protein to be made in his body, he can’t have the transplant until the bad protein levels are down to zero.
“My wife Julie has been absolutely fantastic,” Mike said. “I’m extremely lucky because my family and friends have been just outstanding. That really helps a lot. And the Cancer Center makes you feel like a family and they make you feel good when you go, even though you don’t really want to.”
Before Mike was diagnosed, he was unemployed but still looking for work. Mike spent most of his career in the telephone business as a manager of independent telephone companies. He managed the St. Croix Telephone Company in New Richmond for 20 years. Being diagnosed with cancer put a stop to Mike’s hopes of finding employment and made the decision easier to go into retirement than it would be otherwise.
“There are so many side effects to the cancer drugs that it turns your life upside down,” Mike said. “With me, you keep waiting to feel and do things like you used to. But the realization will hit you at some point that that probably isn’t going to happen. But you also become involved in different things, like the Relay for Life, and start to do things differently.”
Although the life expectancy for a person with multiple myeloma is five to 10 years on average, Mike just said he doesn’t have a long list of items he wants to cross off as soon as he can. Instead, he just wants to be able to live his life and help as many people as he can along the way.
“My wife asked me if I have a bucket list the other day and I told her I didn’t, and that I just wanted to live every day,” Mike said. “I want to help people who are in the same situation as I am, because it is not easy.”