Stepping out for a cause
Along the right side of her neck and jaw, Lynne Larson proudly wears her battle scars. The Fargo woman fought cancer twice, and won the war. "I'm glad I went through it," Larson says. "I like myself better now." She wears another mark to remind h...
Along the right side of her neck and jaw, Lynne Larson proudly wears her battle scars.
The Fargo woman fought cancer twice, and won the war.
"I'm glad I went through it," Larson says. "I like myself better now."
She wears another mark to remind her of this victory -- a tattoo on her right leg. Just above her ankle, a blue-colored dove carries a rose.
That dove will make its way around Discovery Junior High in Fargo as Larson walks in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life this weekend.
Jill Dais-Brenne is the relay chairperson. Her mother died of breast cancer a year ago. Dais-Brenne's first Relay for Life was in 2001, in her hometown of Eureka, S.D.
"It's all about the survivors and, for me personally, honoring and remembering my mom," she says.
This year's relay will include more than 70 teams, which raise money for cancer research, prevention and early detection programs, advocacy and patient and family services. Last year's Fargo relay raised $65,000; the goal for this year is $75,000.
The Clay County Relay for Life also will be held Friday and Saturday at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Larson rounded up her co-workers at Fargo's Vogel Law Firm to form a team.
"I think of it as a celebration," Larson says. "I think of it as a time to share, a time to remember people who haven't been so lucky."
Larson's first bout was cancer of her thyroid when she was 24. Larson says she had no symptoms.
"I thought I was run down, so I went to the doctor," she says.
Two weeks later she had surgery to remove the tumor, and two months after that received doses of radioactive iodine to kill any of the remaining thyroid.
Because of the swiftness and ease of treatment, the illness was not that big of deal, Larson says.
"It was just cancer," she says.
But six years later she found another lump -- this time behind her right ear.
"I wasn't sick at all with this one," Larson says. "I just felt a lump."
It took several months before it was diagnosed as mucoepidermoid carcinoma -- cancer of the salivary gland. A plastic surgeon finally referred her to Mayo Clinic.
"When I went to Mayo I got no good news," Larson says.
The cancer was more aggressive and further developed than originally thought, and it had spread to her lymph glands.
To remove the golf-ball sized tumor, possibly caused by the radioactive iodine used in her first fight with the disease, surgeons performed a dissection of the right side of her neck. They took out the saliva gland, her lymph glands, one of her jugular veins and 15 percent of her facial nerve, leaving the right side of her face paralyzed for three months.
She still can't feel her right ear, her right eye feels weak and -- you have to watch her closely to notice -- the right side of her lips don't pucker.
"Some people think, 'Oh, she's got a crooked smile,' " Larson says.
She also underwent radiation, five days a week for six weeks. She lost 30 pounds and her hair, which she says was the most traumatic part of the ordeal.
"You know what it's like to be nauseous, you know what it's like to be sleepy, but you don't know what it's like to have your hair come out," Larson says.
Nine months later her hair grew back, curlier than before. And now, six years after battling the illness, the 38-year-old woman reflects on the disease, cancer free.
"That was the most at peace I'd been with myself in my entire life," Larson says. "I just feel like it makes you look at things totally different. It gets your priorities straight.
"You know what's important. You know what matters and what doesn't matter. You know what you want to do in your life."
Larson has published two books of poetry since the illness, and she says she's become more spiritual, evidenced by the prayer box and crosses on her bracelets.
She says she wants to experience everything she can. This weekend's relay, the first for her, is an example.
"I want to give hope," Larson says. "It doesn't mean what it used to when you hear the word cancer."
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525