Four area women recently attended the Relay for Life Midwest Division Leadership Summit. In front, from left, are Sherry Johnson and Marilyn Schreier from Major Heroes, Fillmore County's top fundraisers in 2012. In back are this year's Fillmore County Co-Chairs Lavonne Mensink, at left, and Sue Sikkink.
Four area women recently attended the Relay for Life Midwest Division Leadership Summit. In front, from left, are Sherry Johnson and Marilyn Schreier from Major Heroes, Fillmore County's top fundraisers in 2012. In back are this year's Fillmore County Co-Chairs Lavonne Mensink, at left, and Sue Sikkink.
The Relay for Life Midwest Division Leadership Summit is an opportunity for volunteers to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and to learn more about American Cancer Society programs and services in a way that can be incorporated into local events and activities such as Relay for Life, Daffodil Days and charity golf events.

The Midwest Division includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. This year's summit was held at the Doubletree by Hilton in Bloomington, Minn., with over 800 attendees. Representing Fillmore County in this group were Marilyn Schreier and Sherry Johnson from the Relay for Life team Major Heroes and Sue Sikkink and Lavonne Mensink, coordinators of the 2013 Relay for Life event in Harmony.

The event began with the opening general session entitled "When we walk together, we are RELAY BIG!" Kari Liotta, a former teenage thyroid cancer survivor and one of the co-chairs of this event, opened the afternoon with a speech in which she stated that 'purple' signifies survivorship.

On Friday, Schreier and Johnson were recognized that evening for their Relay for Life team, Major Heroes, which was the third-ranked fundraising team in the four state areas. Fillmore County was fifth nationwide for counties with a population between 20,000-24,999.

The guest speaker that night was Betsy Jo Kack, a young mother of two girls and a two-time cancer survivor and a participant in the Relay for Life program. After her talk about the ways cancer affects not only those stricken with the disease, but all those associated with the individuals; Kack led the survivor lap, along with a caregiver lap and a general Relay lap.

Between each session, those from Fillmore County attended breakout workshops that would include a Relay Great Team Captain Experience, Beyond the Ask and Fundraising and Team Recruitment Discussion.

During the next morning session, "When we walk together, we are CELEBRATING HOPE!" Justin Anderson came on stage with his guitar, sang and told the audience about his bout with stage three brain cancer in May of 2010. He is a survivor and a Relayer.

He went from cancer to the top of the world. His doctor asked him if he would like to join him, along with many other Iowa cancer survivors, to the top of Mt. Everest. Since his cancer, Anderson has gone on this trip three different times. He accompanied 39 cancer survivors and caregivers from around the United States, helping to keep them motivated, taking care of logistics and ensuring everything was going smoothly. He recently returned in October 2012. His message was "we gotta celebrate, remember to fight back."

The afternoon session followed the theme, "When we walk together, we are FIGHTING BACK!" AnnMarie Morse, is an Advocate for the American Cancer Society CAN for "Michelle's Law." She began her mission when her daughter Michelle, a full-time student at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, was fighting colon cancer during college. Morse's insurance company told her that if Michelle cut back, as her doctors recommended, she would either lose her insurance or would have to pay C.O.B.R.A.; meanwhile Michelle continued her studies while going through her chemotherapy to become a teacher. Morse would attend many meetings with the New Hampshire legislature and finally, after many years, on June 22, 2006, New Hampshire became the first state to pass Michelle's Law. Since then, 10 other states have passed some variation of the law. On Oct. 8, 2008, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 2851, making Michelle's Law a federal law effective Oct. 9, 2009. Morse's message to the New Hampshire and federal government was "Never mess with a mom who's passionate about a CAUSE." Before Michelle could see this law, she passed away due to her colon cancer.

The closing session was "When we walk together, WE ARE BIGGER THAN CANCER!" The final speaker was a young lady who chaired a team at her high school. She did it for her brother who was a University of Minnesota student that had cancer and survived; he joined her on stage, and the two received a standing ovation.

Remember, each lap gets us closer to a world with more birthdays. Please join these four local women in July of 2013 for the Fillmore County Relay for Life event in Harmony. Opening ceremonies will be held on Friday, July 12.