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Cancer survivors praise their support systems

The upcoming 2019 Martin County Relay for Life on June 29 serves as a powerful reminder that at some level we all need each other.

Banding together to offer camaraderie, hope and encouragement in the face of cancer is a testament to the fortitude of those who have been either in or affected by the disease. This year’s honorary survivors, Melinda Chambers and Lori Underdahl, will speak at the event and have shared a condensed version of their stories.

“I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in November 2017,” Chambers said. “I started chemo that December and had treatment for a year and a half for 16 rounds of chemo.

“In June, 2018, I had a double mastectomy. They found more cancer cells and the following week I had to have more surgery to get that removed.

I did have to have radiation, so for 25 rounds I had to drive back and forth to Mankato during the summer after surgery. I had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed because I’m HER2-positive. Right now, I have to take a pill of hormone blockers for ten years.”

Chambers says she is extremely grateful to those whom she could lean on.

“I had a huge support system with Fairmont Elementary and High School, Girl Scouts, friends and family,” she noted. “I also belong the the Fairmont Area Breast Cancer support group. My family and I did not expect to have the support system that we have and we’re beyond grateful.”

When asked about her reaction to her diagnosis, Chambers said her first thought was not her own fate but that of her family.

“I wasn’t even worried about my own health, I was mostly worried for them. My main goal was to make things as normal as possible for my family so whatever I could do, I would do it.”

Underdahl also shared her story, noting that her mother plays an integral role.

“My mother fell down some stairs and broke her neck, and was rushed to Rochester for surgery,” she said. “When she was able to go home, I offered to help her and then I started getting a week and a half into that. So I had a CT scan and found that I had a growth in my pancreas and it was determined that it was cancer.

“I needed to have a stent put in and went to Rochester to have that done. Then I had the Whipple surgery and had to go through about six months of chemotherapy.”

The Whipple procedure is an operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder and the bile duct.

Underdahl appreciates the support and care she received while undergoing treatment.

“Just having a prayer chain and having family and friends reach out for encouragement was wonderful,” she said. “The prayers that I got from everyone were wonderful and it helped that the nurses and doctors were excellent and kind.”

Both women put a premium on positivity when it comes to dealing with their situations, and encourage others to do the same.

“I would say always rely on your family and friends,” Chambers said. “Don’t feel you can do this on your own, because you can’t. You also have to be positive throughout this whole journey, because that will give you hope.”

“I had the frame of mind to keep positivity and leaned on prayer and God for helping me through this. I just feel so fortunate and having that faith above all is really what got me and my family through it.”

The 2019 Relay for Life will run from 3 p.m. to midnight June 29 at the Martin County Fairgrounds.

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