By Jennie Zeitler, Correspondent
Although Therese Waddell of Little Falls has never been diagnosed with cancer, she is all too familiar with what cancer can do to a person and their loved ones.
Her first experience with cancer happened in 1989, when her sister, Mary Hedburg, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Waddell was 22. Hedburg survived cancer, only to die in a car accident years later.
Three years after her sister’s experience, Waddell’s father, Henry Krueger, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was a survivor and lived until 2013.
Six short months after her father’s diagnosis, Waddell’s mother, Bernice Krueger, was diagnosed with lung cancer which had already metastasized to her bones. She lived 44 days past her diagnosis.
It wasn’t until 17 years later that Waddell’s brother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He lived 140 more days.
“It was after my brother’s death that I got involved with Relay for Life,” said Waddell. “We were so close; his death really impacted me to do that.”
For a couple of years, Waddell was not on a team, but joined friends in walking around the track during part of Relay for Life. In 2012, she joined the Unity Family Healthcare-Family Medical Center team. This is her second year as team captain. Last year she was honored as one of the top fundraisers.
Waddell and her 13-year-old son, Matthew, walk together. Matthew spent a lot of time with his grandpa before he died last year.
“He knows that feeling of loss and heartbreak,” said Waddell. “He enjoys trying to get people to donate to Relay. We write a letter asking people for donations and we always send a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with it.”
Her favorite experience of the Relay for Life event is the luminary ceremony. Paper bags which have been decorated in honor of or in memory of loved ones and friends line the entire track at the Little Falls Community Middle School, filled with lit candles.
“It’s like the track is illuminated by everyone’s loved ones,” she said. “It’s very moving when you walk the track and see the bags you made, or bags for people you know. You get to walk around and visit with people who are in different places in their journey – caregivers, survivors or someone on the journey of cancer. I get to be with other people who are going through this; I can empathize with them and be the support they need.”
Waddell gives of herself by volunteering not only with Relay for Life but for the Morrison County Food Shelf, the Franciscan Sisters’ community meals, Oasis Share-a-Meal and teaching religion classes at Our Lady of Lourdes for the past 18 years.
“I’m letting my family’s love live on through volunteer work,” she said.
Waddell doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about cancer for herself.
“I can try to be as healthy as I can, but when it’s my time to go, it’s my time,” she said. “God has a plan; he knows everything. Worrying about it won’t make anything better.”
She recalls that years ago when her sister was diagnosed with cancer, “we hardly knew anybody who was affected by cancer. By contrast, now “you can hardly find someone who has not been affected.”
Waddell especially values the supportive community behind Relay for Life, such as with the “Paint the Town Purple” drive before Relay each year.
“There are many community members at the Relay who are not on a team. I love the support,” she said. “It’s a nice community event.”
The community also enthusiastically backs other fundraising events such as the annual barbecues and the Glow Runs.
“We were put on earth to make a difference,” Waddell said. “By being out there, being a representative for Relay, it’s making a difference in so many lives. What we can do now is to live each moment to the fullest. We can let the people we love know that we love and care for them.”
The Relay for Life is scheduled for Friday night, at Flyer Field in Little Falls.
A silent auction open to the public begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Little Falls Community Middle School, where the survivor dinner begins at 5:30 p.m.
At 7 p.m., the opening ceremony begins with a welcome from Mary Kline, 2014 Relay chair, followed by a release of doves, a survivor lap around the track, a children’s lap and the parade of teams.
Jeanne Kremers is the guest speaker for the 7 p.m. program.
Waddell will be the guest speaker during the 10 p.m. ceremony, after which the luminaria will be lit.
Following the lighting ceremony, 19 teams will walk around the track all night, until the closing ceremony at 5 a.m. Saturday, July 19.
The public is invited to the ceremonies and to walk the track until after the 10 p.m. ceremony.