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Telling cancer stories is part of Relay event

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A local cancer survivor and a caregiver will serve as the honorary co-chairs of the 2011 Relay For Life in New Richmond.

Carla Kelley, owner of Curves in New Richmond, began her cancer journey on Nov. 19, 2010. She will serve as one of the co-chairs, and her business will sponsor a team in the event.

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A Deer Park resident, along with her husband, Monte, for 17 years, Kelley said she's honored to be involved in this year's Relay.

"I have been involved with Relay in some capacity for seven years -- first as a contributor, later as a team member and now as a co-captain," she said.

This year, however, her involvement is more personal.

Through much of last year, Kelley had gained weight.

"As owner of Curves, a fitness center for women, I felt like I was letting my ladies down and setting a bad example," she admitted.

She eventually saw a doctor, who diagnosed her with Lymphedema. But even as treatment continued, Kelley made little progress.

"I would make a little progress and then go backwards again," she said. "I had also developed severe lower back pain and could barely walk. I was getting weaker by the day."

Kelley later went to United Hospital to have a blood test. She was scheduled for an MRI a short time later.

"We were not prepared for the news we were about to receive," she said. Kelley had a large cancerous tumor.

As she was admitted to the hospital, Kelley learned that her dad had been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

"He had undergone surgery and his doctors are convinced they got it all," she said. "As you see, Relay is more important to me this year than ever. Cancer has found my family and has left a mark."

Kelley said she remains optimistic as her cancer battle continues.

"My journey is far from over and it is an uphill battle," she said. "The silver lining is that I know I am surrounded by people who love me and that I will never have to fight alone."

The Relay's second co-chair is Bob Olson, who has been a caregiver for his wife, Henri, a cancer survivor. When he speaks at the upcoming Relay For Life, June 10-11, he will talk about the cancer battle from the caregiver's perspective.

"One does not realize the impact that cancer has on a person, family and friends until it happens close to you," he said. "Such was the case for us."

In the fall of 2005, Henri was diagnosed as being anemic. Following iron shots and taking iron medication, she requested a colonoscopy, even though she did have one less than two years earlier. On Dec. 28, 2005 a tumor was found.

On Jan. 16, 2006, a surgeon removed around 24 inches of Henri's colon and several lymph nodes.

"She came out of surgery well, but then we found her stomach was not working," Bob Olson noted. "She finally came home 17 days later and continued the healing to get ready for chemotherapy."

Her oncologist, Dr. Jaffe, put it on the line as to what to expect from treatment.

Twelve treatments were administered every other week. The treatment schedule was longer due to Henri's poor blood tests.

"The side effects of Henri's chemo, was neuropathy, especially of the hands and feet," Bob Olson recalled. "Balance became an issue. She could not drink or eat anything cold. She could not open the refrigerator in that she might breath in the cold. Cold would cause her throat to not function correctly."

Bob said neuropathy is still an issue to this day, although not as bad.

Despite the challenges of treatment, Henri's cancer has been in remission for the past six years. Last month Henri graduated to once-a-year checkups.

Still, Bob Olson said, the chance that the cancer could come back is always in the back of the couple's mind.

"It's an unknown," he said.

They are thankful, however, that Henri's recovery has gone as well as it has.

"You go through a lot of highs and lows together," he said. "But we are fortunate that the medical profession is able to advance to where they are today."

This year's Relay for Life is Friday and Saturday, June 10-11, from 2 p.m. to 2 p.m. The event is held on the track at the old New Richmond High School.

Money raised through the relay helps support the American Cancer Society and its programs, research, advocacy and service locally and nationwide.

This year's relay theme is "Super Heroes."

If interested in participating as an individual or team, go to www.relayforlife.org/newrichmondwi or contact Patty Berger at 715-248-3892 or Betty Swanson at 715-410-5488.

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