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Relay for Life honorary co-chairs announced

Caleb Peterson has been battling a brain tumor since August 2008, when he was first diagnosed. He's been named a 2013 New Richmond Relay for Life honorary co-chair and will share his story at 10 p.m. on June 14. (Photo by Jackie Grumish)1 / 2
Lois Worbes has been named an honorary co-chair of New Richmond's Relay for Life event. Worbes acted as caregiver to her best friend, Peggy Harris, who died last year of pancreatic cancer. (Photo by Jackie Grumish)2 / 2

Lois Worbes and Caleb Peterson have been dubbed this year's New Richmond Relay for Life honorary co-chairs.

Worbes, who acted as the caregiver to her best friend, Peggy Harris, will speak at the annual Relay event, slated for June 14-15 at the New Rchmond Middle School track, at 6 p.m. Peterson, who has been battling a brain tumor since 2008, will give the 10 p.m. speech.

Peterson was originally diagnosed in August 2008 and immediately was scheduled for surgery and radiation treatment at Rochester, Minn.'s Mayo Clinic. He underwent a seven-month chemotherapy program in Eau Claire and, after tests confirmed the tumor had shrunk, enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for the 2009-10 school year.

In 2010 tests showed that Peterson's tumor had returned and doctors wanted to schedule another surgery; however, Peterson insisted they wait until after his sister's wedding.

In 2011, Peterson had his tumor removed a second time and he and his father flew to Boston to participate in Proton Radiation Therapy, a unique type of radiation therapy that would, in theory, eliminate any cancer cells that were left behind after the surgery.

While in Boston, Peterson was able to participate in the Hospitality Homes Program, where patients are housed with a similar sized and similar aged family.

"That was fun," he said. "It makes the reason you're out there more bearable."

After returning to Roberts, Peterson enrolled at UW-RF for the 2011-12 school year and lived a normal life until the fall of 2012, when doctors discovered the tumor had appeared again.

"At that point surgery was too risky and I was maxed out on radiation, so we had to do chemotherapy again," he said.

Peterson had planned to enroll at UW-RF this spring, but yet again, the tumor reappeared.

"I have one more round of treatment for this cycle," Peterson said.

Peterson said he's optimistic because initial reports have shown that the tumor has shrunk again.

"I always get excited that it's shrunk," he said. "It's better than them saying it hasn't -- but I'm always leery because it's come back so often. I can't be too optimistic."

Still, Peterson said he won't let cancer define who he is.

"I can't let cancer deter me from living as normal of a life as I can," he said. "It's not something I'm going to let ruin my life."

Peterson has been involved with Relay for Life events since December 2009, when he participated in his first Relay in Hudson. Since that first Relay, he's participated in New Richmond's event every year, along with each Relay event organized through UW-RF. He's also started the Conquer Cancer Club, a UW-RF club for college students who are affected by cancer.

"It's sort of a support group for college-aged kids," he said.

Peterson said he was shocked when he was asked to be an honorary co-chair of the 2013 Relay in New Richmond.

"Once I got over the shock, I was happy," he said. "This will allow me to share my story on a bigger scale."

Peterson said it took him quite a while to figure out what he wanted to say during his speech.

"I have all these thoughts but I've never put them to paper," he said. "It's been kind of nice to get them organized and really figure out the message I want to get across."

Peterson said his goal is to honor those who are fighting cancer and honor those who have inspired him. He said he also hopes to remember those who are no longer living, but have given cancer survivors something to draw strength from.

"As bleak as the diagnosis is, everyone is different," he said. "I wasn't supposed to survive my second brain surgery. People get so concerned with the numbers that they forget to enjoy life and what's going on in front of them. You can't let the numbers define who you are. You have to live and enjoy life. If you don't, life won't be fun anymore."

Lois Worbes

When Worbes' best friend, Peggy Harris, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on June 6, 2011, there was no question that Worbes would be there for her friend.

"We were best friends who took care of each other," Worbes said.

Eventually, Worbes and Harris moved into a lake house owned by Harris' son, Jay Parr.

"We had the kind of friendship where one of us would have been there for the other no matter what," Worbes said.

In fact, during their time as housemates, Worbes said she broke her ankle and the role of caregiver was reversed for a short time.

"My goal is to share what a blessing it is to be a caregiver," Worbes said of her speech. "It's a very special time and creates a special bond. We had a friendship that developed into a sisterhood."

Worbes said her favorite memories include the walks in the park she used to take with Harris.

"We enjoyed God's work in nature," she said. "Peggy was very strong in her faith and was very inspirational."

Harris' inspiration wasn't limited to the New Richmond area. Her memory is also being honored in Rhinelander this year at the Relay for Life event there, where her daughter, Angela Harris, has been named an honorary co-chair.

"She (Peggy Harris) touched a lot of lives," Worbes said. "She didn't realize how inspirational she was."