Delano native Jennifer (Graunke) Griffith has heard the words “you have cancer” too many times. Since 2007, she has heard the word cancer twice for breast cancers and once each for uterine and ovarian cancers.
Griffith found herself right smack in the middle of numerous cancer surgeries, breast reconstruction surgeries and surgeries for complications from surgeries. In between her multiple operating room visits, she endured radiation therapy and chemotherapies.
Finally, by July 8, 2012, she was on the road to recovery. At the end of July she participated in her first Relay for Life as a member of the “In It to Win It” Relay team, along with her sister-in-law Lynn Graunke of Delano. Their team raised $8,400 last year to help the American Cancer Society’s efforts to fight cancer and support cancer victims and their families.
Griffith is back this year with her Relay team for this year’s all night Relay For Life, which will begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 26, and will run into the early morning hours of Saturday, July 27, at Delano Central Park. And this year Griffith will serve as Honorary Survivor for the Relay. Originally from Delano, she now lives in Cannon Falls, where she is an organic vegetable farmer.
“I never would have been so successful with my recovery, if it wasn’t for my husband Mike,” Griffith said.
Her thanks to Mike brings up the subject of caregivers. Relay for Life celebrates and remembers not only cancer survivors and people lost to cancer but also caregivers, such as this year’s Honorary Care Givers Amy Burau and Jessica Maas, both of Winsted.
“Amy and her sister Jessica have a sisterly bond that very few could share,” said Sarah Schumacher, one of the organizers of this year’s Delano Relay for Life. “Not only do they both live in Winsted, work in the medical field, help raise each other’s kids but they were also diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009 at the age of 33 and 35. With the love and compassion that they have for each other, they were able to be there to support each other through surgeries, pains, emotions, treatments and constant worries.”
Burau lives with her husband Mark of 14 years and three children and works for Ridgeview Medical Center. Maas has two children and works for Park Nicollet in St. Louis Park.
The public is invited to join in Relay activities, some of which are fun and some of which bring up multiple emotions — joy for being alive, sad memories, glad memories and sharing of common experiences. Highlights of the evening will be speeches by the Honorary Survivor and Honorary Caregivers, the Survivors Walk and, finally, the lighting of luminaria at 9:30 p.m. to honor survivors and those who have died.
The Delano Lions will provide dinner for a nominal fee to all guests. The Delano High School Jazz Band will begin playing on the main ball field at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The opening ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. Relay teams will offer numerous activities for all ages, including face painting, a petting zoo, dunk tank, live music, a Home Depot kid’s project station, fire truck tours with the Delano Fire Department and other activities throughout the evening.
The Relay will wrap up at 5:30 a.m. on July 27 with a Closing Ceremony.
The two-day Relay will be the culmination of a series of events that already have begun. Since February, Relay teams have been holding fund raisers for the fight against cancer.
“We are again asking Delano businesses and residents to Paint the Town Purple from July 13 to Aug. 3 by decorating their homes and businesses with purple lights and decorations,” Schumacher said. “Purple is the color of Hope, and we hope to help raise awareness to the Relay and the purpose of this activity.”
Sue Topel of Delano will speak at a special dinner for survivors, set for 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20.
Reflecting on her difficult years since 2007, Griffith said, “Every day I get to say I don’t have cancer is a gift. I have so much to be thankful for. I don’t take anything for granted. I tell people I love them.”
She said she has received “so many gifts” during her cancer journey, and her life is “so enriched” now. People have taken the time to tell her that they love her. And she has learned the lessons of humility, asking for help, gratefulness, acceptance, and perseverance.
She remembered what it was like to walk all night in her first Relay for Life last year. “While walking that night I thought about people who were diagnosed with cancer that day and were lying in bed unable to sleep,” she said. “There are so many good reasons to do it. I wanted to do something, however small, to help somebody.”
Contact Susan Van Cleaf at [email protected]