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Striking a blow against cancer: Beltrami County Relay for Life on Saturday at Sanford Center

Wanda Roff is this year’s ambassador for cancer survivors for Saturday’s Relay for Life at the Sanford Center. She will be part of a group who will donate their hair to Locks for Love during the event. Roff purchased her Honda motorcycle three years ago as a treat to herself for remaining cancer free. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Wanda Roff has been cancer free since May of 2006.

Now, eight years later, the Bemidji woman will share her cancer survivor story at the annual Relay For Life event on Saturday at the Sanford Center.

Relay For Life is a fundraising event put on by the American Cancer Society to raise money for cancer research, patient support, prevention information and education and detection and treatment.

"This year's theme is 'Finish the Fight -- Knock Out Cancer!', and that's what we're all about," Jodie Kroeger, the Beltrami County event chair, said. "We are just trying to find a way to keep battling cancer, and that's why this event is so important. We will keep fighting cancer until we no longer have to, until we are cancer free."

Last year's event raised about $80,000 and this year's goal is to raise $92,000 or more, Kroeger said. Already about $60,000 has been raised from donations and teams and individuals who fundraise year-round, so the Relay is well on their way to reaching their goal.

"I have met so many survivors and people in treatment that it's like a little family for me," Roff said. "Relay For Life is important because it is raising awareness. For me, I needed support, and Relay was my outlet where there were people to help me out and talk to. And now I am able to help others by sharing my story."

Roff, 38, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 30. She had just delivered her son, Kasey. When she went to the clinic for her post check-up, the doctors noticed something was not quite right and discovered tumor growth after a biopsy examination.

"I found out about my cancer when my son was 7-weeks-old. About 10 days later, I had surgery at the University of Minnesota, and then I had a radical hysterectomy and stayed in the hospital for two or three more days. Once the swelling and everything went down about a month after surgery, I started having radiation everyday and chemotherapy every Friday," Roff said.

For much of her treatment, Roff was unable to take care of her son as much as she would've liked, which was especially frustrating for her, she said.

"I remember the day I came home from the hospital, my husband was bathing our son. He started crying, and I couldn't get up and help calm him down," she said. "I wanted to be able to do everything on my own and act like nothing was wrong. I didn't want to take as much help as I did, but I took the help anyway. When there are people who want to support and help you, just grab that help because you really can't do it on your own, even if you really want to."

Roff said she was very fortunate to have great caregivers who helped her tremendously during treatment and recovery. Her friends, family, and her husband, Ken, were always by her side, going back and forth to appointments and helping her at home. One person who Roff says she is especially thankful for is Kasey. Although he was just a baby when she was battling her cancer, he is the person she has to thank most for her survival.

"Had it not been for my son, I wouldn't be here," Roff said. "Because of my son, the doctors were able to find the tumor much earlier and treat it."

Kroeger said thinks the event should have a good showing, as many people have been affected by cancer in some way.

"I think because so many people have either had cancer or know someone who has struggled with cancer, that Relay For Life really strikes a chord with a lot of people. Cancer is really just eating away at us," Kroeger said. "I would love to not have Relay be necessary anymore because there is no more cancer, but that is not the case. We are slowly starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and putting on the Relay event brings us closer to that light and the right direction."

A 5K run/walk for all ages starts at 9 a.m. on the Paul Bunyan Trail in dedication to the memory of Kelly Stone of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and Kroeger's aunt, Sue Guenther. The cost is $30 per entrant with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society.

The actual Relay event starts at 11 a.m. in the Sanford Center arena with activities, prizes, live music, food, and ceremonies to honor cancer survivors and to remember loved ones who passed away in their battle against cancer. The event ends at 11 p.m.

2014 Relay For Life of Beltrami County schedule

The 2014 Relay For Life of Beltrami County will take place from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Sanford Center, 1111 Event Center Drive NE.

● 9 a.m. A 5K For Relay will take place on the Paul Bunyan Trail. Registration and check-in begins at 8 a.m. The course runs east, toward Lincoln School, and turns around at the halfway point and ends where it started next to the Sanford Center. There will be trophies and awards for the top finishers in six age categories. There will also be a trophy for the winner of the “business challenge”. The race is dedicated to the memory of Kelly Stone of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and Sue Guenther. Same-day registrations are welcome and cost is $30 per racer.

● 11 a.m. The Relay for Life will begin inside the Sanford Center.

● 11:30 a.m. Teams will be introduced and will lead the first official lap of Relay. The theme is “Finish the Fight – Knock Out Cancer!”

● 1 p.m. Community heroes lap featuring law enforcement and firefighters. There will be several themed laps throughout the day.

● 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Hair stylists available to cut pony tails for Pantene Beautiful Lengths “Pony Up” hair donations. All donated hair is used for wigs for cancer patients.

● 2 p.m. Live performances on stage will begin with Saphire Brown.

● 3 p.m. Caregiver of the Year award presentation.

● 4 p.m. Live performance by Courtney “Guns” Gunsalus.

● 4:30 p.m. Fish fry by the “Fish Fry Crew. Suggestion donation is $7.

● 5 p.m. Live performance by Wooden Nichols.

● 6 p.m. Survivor ceremony including survivor lap. All cancer survivors are welcome to gather in the survivor area for “birthday” cake and coffee.

● 7 p.m. Live performance by Cowboy Logic.

● 8 p.m. Luminary ceremony featuring Brian Solum on bagpipes and the lighting of the luminaries.

● 10:30 p.m. Celebration of teams and announcement of totals.

● 11 p.m. Relay ends.

Throughout the day, there will be more than 40 team sites featuring food items, games, activities, sales and more. There will be a caricature artist doing drawings, a “Jail and Bail” and a scavenger hunt. There will be a car show from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Sanford Center parking lot. There will be an opportunity to vote for the “fan favorite” car.

Serratore is entering her senior year at Bemidji High School and is interning at the Pioneer through the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Pohlad Summer Internship Program.