Relay for Life set for Friday night at Ted Meinhover Field in Perham

The Relay For Life of Otter Tail County will be held this weekend at the Perham High School Track/Ted Meinhover field. Friday’s ceremony marks the culmination of months of planning, preparations and fundraising by the Relay Event Leadership Team and over 20 Relay For Life teams.

Friday night’s event in Perham kicks off at 5:30 p.m., but people can come out to the track/football field at any time during the evening. The event is free of charge, and there are activities for people of all ages. 

This year’s theme is Dr. Seuss-based, and this Relay for Life is focused on children’s cancer, as well as all cancers. Honorary co-chairs Taylor Johnson and Rylie Pederson, childhood cancer survivors,  will lead the Survivors Lap and will speak at the Luminaria Ceremony. 

Cancer survivors are encouraged to attend the event, get a Survivor’s shirt, and walk the Survivors Lap, if they feel comfortable doing so. With the exception of the two ceremonies, there is a great deal of time to walk around, enjoy food and activities, look at luminary bags and enjoy conversation. 

The following schedule provides a glimpse of what happens at the Relay For Life of Otter Tail County:

• 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.- Silent auction, concessions, inflatables, hair braiding, wacky hair, face painting, advocacy tent, education scavenger hunt, kids’ games, food and games at various campsites (including baked potato bar, fry bread, smoothies, pizza on the grill and more)

• 7:30 p.m.- Opening Ceremony featuring Survivors Lap, dove release, team lap

• 8:10-9:15 p.m.- Activities continue

• 9:15 p.m.-  Luminaria Ceremony featuring speeches by Honorary Co-Chairs and lighting of the luminaries

• 10 p.m.- Silent auction closes

• 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.- Pancake breakfast at concession stand

• 12-6 a.m.- Middle of the night activities

• 6 a.m.- Closing ceremony

• 6:15 a.m.- Luminary clean-up

The public is also encouraged to help with luminary set-out and clean-up, as these are tasks that go much more quickly with a large number of volunteers working on them. Luminary set-out takes place at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon at the track, and clean up takes place at 6:15 a.m. There is no  need to register in advance; volunteers can just come out to the track and help.

While the main focus of the Relay For Life is celebrating cancer survivors, remembering those that have been lost and raising funds for the American Cancer Society, it is also a celebration of the efforts of the participating teams. As one attends the Relay for Life, it becomes very clear that many people have put in many hours of preparation for this event. 

The top five fundraising teams – Dream Team of New York Mills, Vergas Looneys, Got Hope, Jennie-O of Pelican Rapids, and St. Lawrence Saints, have worked for months to have raised over $11,000 each. All other teams are working to reach high fundraising goals, as well. These are efforts worth celebrating.

Relay for Life co-chairs

When asked what they remember about their cancer experiences, both Taylor Johnson and Rylie Peterson had very little to recall.  Not surprising, considering that Taylor was first diagnosed at 11-months-old and had a bone marrow transplant at age two, while Rylie was only four-years-old when her cancer journey began.  

Parents of both girls affirm that their personalities are what got them through. 

“Taylor was an unusual patient. Strong-willed might be an understatement,” said Taylor’s dad. 

Rylie’s mom said, “Rylie was a rock star when it came to doing what was required—especially when it came to blood draws.”  

The following paragraphs detail what each girl’s cancer experience was like and how their unique personality traits helped them weather even the most difficult days.

Taylor Johnson was first diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on January 26, 2019, at the age of four.  Ironically, a severe earache that woke Taylor up in the middle of the night brought Taylor to her pediatrician, Dr. Chapman. His examination included an abdominal x-ray that troubled him. He explained to Tricia, Taylor’s mom, that he could feel both her liver and her spleen, and that should not be the case. 

Bloodwork revealed the leukemia, and Taylor’s cancer journey began. The first six months of treatment was aggressive and involved many trips to the Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, N.D. 

During this phase, the treatment plan would change every 28 days, in order to make sure the cancer didn’t develop an immunity to the treatment. Taylor went through seven or eight different chemotherapy treatments. During this time, Taylor had numerous lumbar punctures, in which doctors tested the spinal fluid and injected chemotherapy into the spinal area to prevent drugs from getting into the brain. Taylor was at a high risk for infections in this first phase, so the family would have to be prepared to quickly get to Fargo if Taylor spiked a fever. 

Her father, Matt, laughed as he said, “Taylor was notorious for spiking a fever at 10:00 on a Sunday night, rather than a weekday.” 

Another thing the family found humor in was Taylor’s appetite during this first phase of treatment. Taylor was on a steroid during the first 28 days of treatment, which put her appetite into overdrive. 

A nurse at Roger Maris warned Matt and Tricia that Taylor would be insisting on middle of the night food preparation to get the foods she craved. Taylor craved a lot of foods during this time, especially pasta, alfredo sauce, and broccoli. Matt recalled a night when Taylor was demanding chili, and she had Tricia up at 4:30 a.m. making chili.  He also recalled a day that he deliberately counted meals consumed, and Taylor had a total of 10 different meals that day. That phase did not last beyond the first 28 days, however, and after six months of “phase one,” Taylor was into the second phase, which was a maintenance phase. In this phase, bloodwork was done frequently to check various levels. 

Taylor had very few issues during this phase; there was only one time her levels were off.  Taylor finished her entire treatment in 26 months, and her last chemotherapy treatment was March 29, 2021, when Taylor was seven.  

“I can’t say enough about the quality of care and her doctors at Roger Maris,” said Matt.  

Since that time, Taylor first did follow-up once a month for a year. This was reduced to quarterly for a year, then to every six months. Taylor is now down to one appointment a year, and she has been pronounced “good.” 

At 10-years-old, Taylor loves napping and taking care of her chickens. She recently went to Camp Kace (Kids Against Cancer Everywhere), where she loved horseback riding. As to what Taylor remembers of her cancer experience, Taylor said, “I remember I wanted to stay awake for the ‘spinal pokes’, and I was going to fight it.” 

She was asleep in minutes. Matt laughed, “She thought she could fight it, but you can’t beat propofol.”  

Just one more example of that strong will that got Taylor through her cancer experience.

Rylie Pederson was diagnosed with leukemia at 11-months and started chemotherapy shortly after that. She went in for treatment in May, and this began several months of treatment. Rylie’s mom, Teresa, said Rylie tolerated most things well, but was sometimes drained and tired. Rylie was so little when she started her cancer journey that she actually learned to walk in the hospital hallways. 

In November, Rylie relapsed, so the next step was a bone marrow transplant. This took place in February, when Rylie was almost two-years-old. Rylie’s marrow donor was her sister Samantha.

Rylie’s bone marrow transplant was a challenge for the whole family. Rylie needed to be in the hospital in the Twin Cities for 100 days following the transplant, so Rylie’s mom and two sisters moved to the Twin Cities. For the first part of these 100 days, all stayed in Rylie’s room in the Masonic Children’s Hospital, but when Rylie moved into another room, her mom and sisters stayed in the Ronald McDonald House. 

“The Ronald McDonald House was great! They prepared and served meals and had activities for the kids .All of it was free,” said Rylie’s mom. 

Teresa feels that one of the keys to having things go so well during this time was having the whole family there, so they could have a sense of normalcy. Rylie’s older sister, Natlie, went to school at the Ronald McDonald House, and sister Samantha went to preschool nearby. Volunteers would stay with Rylie so that Teresa and the girls could get out and do things. They got to attend a gymnastics event at the Excel Center and a play at the Children’s Theater in Hopkins. It helped to keep the family’s spirits up and to stay positive. 

Teresa described Rylie as a rock star when it came to doing what was expected—especially getting blood drawn.  

Rylie remembers very little of this time—her memories are more of her healing and recovery. However, she agrees that she is still good at getting her blood drawn, even now. She has a “big test” every four years. 

“The chemo did mess up some things—my thyroid, my growth. I’m on a thyroid medicine now,” she said.  

Rylie also remembers talking to doctors a lot. She said they ask the same questions every year, including asking about mental health, which she thinksis good. She remembers walks and playing on swings, too.  

Today, 13-year old Rylie likes to read—especially books about summer and romantic comedies. She started playing Junior Olympics volleyball in sixth grade and enjoys playing volleyball. Rylie is also in the marching band. Although she plays percussion in band, her role in the marching band is that of the banner carrier. She and her friend are at the front of the entire band, proudly announcing the New York Mills Marching Band. 

To hear more about their cancer experiences from Rylie and Taylor, come to the Relay For Life of Otter Tail County this coming Friday, July 12, at the Perham High School Track/Ted Meinhover Field. 

The Opening Ceremony featuring the Survivors Lap is at 7:30 p.m., and the girls will speak at the Luminaria Ceremony at 9:15 p.m.