Alex Scrabeck and his father, Devin, show of their newly-shaved heads.
Alex Scrabeck and his father, Devin, show of their newly-shaved heads.
Changing a life can happen in an instant. For Alex Scrabeck and his family, their lives were changed forever when Alex was diagnosed with lymphoblastic T-Cell Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on Jan. 19. What they didn't realize at that time was how their lives would also be changed by the response from the surrounding community.

"His cancer is life changing, but the support from people has also been life changing," stated Terisa Scrabeck, Alex's mother.

The road has been difficult and will continue to be so. However, the Scrabecks and the surrounding community have shown numerous times, through word and deed, the tremendous amount of hope they have in Alex.

Alex's journey has been chronicled in great detail on the website ever since he went to the hospital on Jan. 16 to see why his breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. Not a moment too soon, it was discovered that he had a large mass in the center of his chest that was causing the constriction.

According to Alex's father, Devin, and Terisa, the news that their only son had cancer sent them into a state of shock.

"We really didn't want to see anybody right away," shared Terisa.

However, as soon as the word had gotten out, people from Harmony and the surrounding area began showing their support.

"The people brought us around," Terisa shared, adding, "We realized we needed to dwell on Alex and not the cancer."

Alex's aunt, Melissa Onsager, set up Alex's page on the website the next day and it has proven to be a useful tool in keeping the community updated, while also providing the family with space when they need it.

"So many people want to know what is going on," she shared. Onsager teaches at Fillmore Central, which is where Alex attends. She said the day after Alex went to the hospital, his classmates were already informed of what was going on and eager to find ways of supporting Alex. A T-shirt order form was quickly formed and lime green ribbons for lymphoma awareness began to be sold. This would be just the beginning of a continuing community effort to support the Scrabecks.

A large portion of the support has been monetary. Hospital and treatment costs are massive when it comes to fighting cancer. The first benefit held occurred at the Village Square where all the tips from one night were donated to the Scrabecks. The owner, Julie Barrett, also donated 10 percent of all the profits made that same day as well. This amounted to just over $900 dollars.

The largest fundraisers were those put on by the girls' and boys' basketball teams at Fillmore Central. The girls' team put on a "Fight for Alex" event at their home game against Rushford-Peterson on Feb. 12. T-shirts, ribbons and bracelets were for sale and all nearly sold out before the varsity game even began. There was also a silent auction, raffle drawing and live auction for a lime green basketball signed by all the members of the girls' team.

The gym was packed not just for the game, but in support of Alex and his family, who were able to attend the game that night. The game ball was given to Alex and each of the team members wore lime green socks during the game.

On Feb. 24, the boys' team, on which Alex played before becoming ill, held a benefit breakfast at the Harmony Community Center and was able to raise over $7,000.

Word got around to many other schools Fillmore Central played during the season. Rushford-Peterson, Caledonia, Dover-Eyota, Plainview-Elgin-Millville and Chatfield each showed their support through cards and donations of money.

In every case, it has been the small, but meaningful donations by many people that have made the difference and contributed to these large totals. The Scrabecks continue to receive many gifts of money, gas cards, restaurant gift cards and parking vouchers.

"It's almost non-stop," shared Devin. His workplace at Featherlite Trailers in Cresco also put forward a big donation toward medical costs. They have also been flexible, Devin said, as they allow him to work around Alex's schedule.

The church Alex and his family attend, Greenfield Lutheran, held what they call a "noisy" offering where everyone brings their loose change and dumps it into a container to be donated to a good cause.

Anne Detlefsen of Harmony has been making earrings and bracelets that she sells for the Scrabecks' benefit and plans to continue doing it for the upcoming Relay for Life event, which will be held in Harmony this year.

The Scrabecks are looking forward to the Relay and said it will take on an even more special meaning this year for them with Alex's fight. At school, there is a signup sheet to form a team from Alex's 25-member sophomore class.

The support extends beyond giving money. Through their CaringBridge website, people are able to send messages to the Scrabecks with many, many words of hope and support.

According to Alex, seeing how much people care about him has made him stronger in his fight. He doesn't know some of the many people who are supporting him, but yet gains strength and hope from their words and prayers anyway.

Alex admitted he has also been learning a lot from having cancer. "I'm not afraid to put myself out there anymore," he said adding, "I'm not afraid of people laughing at me, or what people think about me. I've stopped taking things for granted."

Devin and Terisa also have witnessed great maturity by Alex and his friends, who have gone out of their way to visit him when he is in the hospital and to help him when he is able to attend school.

Assistant basketball coach Aaron Mensink shared how Alex's absence has impacted his team. "It really brought the team even closer together. They were all like brothers anyway, but this inspired them. It taught them that there is more to life than basketball." At the benefit dinner, most of the team had their heads shaved to identify with Alex.

Many people have helped the Scrabecks. "It's so hard to thank everyone, but we want people to know how appreciative we are," Terisa said. "I always loved living in a small town, but now it is even more important because you are closer to more people. We have felt that the community will stick it through with us."

She added that it means a lot when people tell Alex they are praying for him. "It's helped us pull through."

Alex still has his good and bad days, but there are signs of improvement. The tumor has shrunk by 75 percent and he is being treated at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, where the Scrabecks say they have been met with wonderful doctors and nurses.

The cancer he was diagnosed with has an 85 percent survival rate and Alex has been going through chemotherapy. He goes every Friday for treatments and other appointments.

One of the family's main focuses is on keeping him fed well. Alex was on steroids for a while after he was first diagnosed, and this made him very hungry. "He would have eaten the plate if he could have," said Terisa.

Alex continues to get stronger and the family has a positive outlook on his continued progression to health. In the mean time, Alex will continue fighting, with an entire family of community members behind him.