by Jim Boyle
As the honorary chair of the Elk River Relay for Life, Harlan Rosendahl spent two weeks writing a speech and had been practicing every day.
“I wanted it to be perfect,” he wrote on his CaringBridge page.
He was careful to leave out names of his support team and left out other aspects that would have triggered tears.
But halfway through his speech at the annual Elk River Relay for Life, on Aug. 2 at the Elk River High School varsity football field, he lost it when he quoted his doctor who, in September 2011, stated: “Mr. Rosendahl, you have cancer.”
Michelle Sonderup, a co-chair of this year’s relay stepped in for Rosendahl and read the rest of his speech he had crafted. As Rosendahl struggled to regain his composure, grandchildren Amanda, Benjamin and Madeline made their way to him from the stadium bleachers. With Amanda nestled under Rosendahl’s arm, the two younger grandkids each grabbed a leg to steady their grandfather.
Sonderup went on to read about Rosendahl’s tremendous team of doctors, a strong family support system and a Christian community he was able lean on after the doctor diagnosed his esophageal cancer with those painful words.
The Elk River Relay for Life has raised nearly $41,000 toward its goal of $60,000, including more than $7,600 at the Aug. 2 event. Teams have until Aug. 17 to turn in donations, and any money raised before Dec. 31 will also be counted toward the 2013 total.
The top fundraising team so far is Grand Central Station Locomotion at $5,787.38. The captain of that team is Carole Eckstrom. Next in line is First National Bank Banking on a Cure with $3,535 in so far.
During the luminaria ceremony, when the event recognizes caregivers, Sonderup spoke.
“It was very moving, and I think it hit home with a lot of people,” said Missie Meyer, the event’s other co-chair. “So many people feel helpless when someone they know has cancer. But there are so many ways to help and the little things are what mean the most.”
Those little things can include anything to help the family have some sense normalcy — a meal prepared, a ride somewhere, helping to run errands, get groceries, even just sit and relax and have movie time.
The ceremony was held just after midnight. The luminaria in the bleachers first spelled out “hope,” and later the lights were rearranged to spell “cure.” Speakers talked about Relay’s impact on them. Eckstrom spoke from the hip.
“She did a great job with explaining why she does this year after year,” Meyer said. “She said, ‘How can I not?’ It definitely opened my eyes.
“I was thinking of not remaining on the committee next year. Now I will be back,” Meyer said. “To copy Carol, how can I not?”
This was Rosendahl’s first Relay for Life.
“It was a very emotional evening for me,” he wrote. “Several survivors talked to me about their battle with cancer and wished me well with mine. Many said they would pray for me, and I am so grateful for that.”
Rosendahl had his last round of radiation on the morning of the event — for his second bout with cancer.
By 10 p.m. he had enough energy to help Benjamin light his luminary, and family members pushed him around the track.
When the bleachers came into view with the luminaria, they were in awe.
“It was beautiful sight and it did inspire,” Rosendahl said.