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Relay for Life Co-Chairs come with a purpose: Cavanagh and Sjolie set to lead the way in July 13 event in Perham

Wade Sjolie (Photo courtesy Photo Magic)1 / 2
Gina Cavanaugh (Photo courtesy Photo Magic)2 / 2

Gina Cavanagh and Wade Sjolie are the 2018 East Otter Tail Relay For Life Honorary co-chairpersons. These two cancer survivors will represent all area survivors at the Friday, July 13 Relay at the Perham Schools track for the year 2018. These two are similar in some ways—both are 55 years old and have survived their cancers. They hope their stories can be useful and inspiring to others who are struggling with this disease.

Wade Sjolie

Wade Sjolie was diagnosed with multiple melanoma five years ago. He had been suffering from back pain that had become increasingly severe. One night, the pain became so severe that his wife, Jodi, took him to the emergency room of the hospital. "I have always been healthy," said Sjolie. "I agreed with the doctors, who told me that it might be a kidney stone. The result of a CAT scan said it was cancer. What a shock. I was diagnosed two hours before my fiftieth birthday." His first question, like that of so many others, was "How long have I got to live? Their best estimate was three years. That was five years ago."

Treatment soon began and continues yet today. Unfortunately, complete remission from the cancer is not possible, said Sjolie, but it is controlled by two chemotherapy sessions every week. He credits his family for giving him the strength to get through the first tough year. "We had a baby in our family that year, Emery, and I could see him and hold him each day," said Sjolie. "Jodi and I have been married eleven year now. I could not have made it without her. I ended up in Rochester for what should have been three weeks, but complications turned it into three months. She never left my side." His family is extensive, with three children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren—all reasons to fight for life.

Wade's life is a little restricted. He tires easily, and he cannot hunt and fish as much as he used to. But, as he concludes, "The 'Light of My Life', Jodi, is always there for me," said Sjolie. "My kids and grandkids are close by. I tire easily, but life is good, too."

Gina Cavanagh

Gina Cavanagh is a very busy person, living a full life unrestricted by cancer. She is involved with much, and for her, there is no superficial involvement—each one gets her full attention. She is married to husband Bob and has three children: Patrick, 28, Kaari, 26 and Dan, 25.

Gina is a three-year survivor of breast cancer. Ironically, her cancer journey began just before Mother's Day. It was a very small tumor, but the biopsy revealed it to be cancerous. There was surgery, then radiation, as she says, "all at once." Given some time to heal, she took a motorcycle trip, something she has loved doing since she was young. December brought chemotherapy, then radiation, but she was able to lift some weights and do some cardio. By February, Gina found another activity to occupy her energies—workouts three times per week. As she grew fitter she adopted a healthier diet. Today, she has no restrictions on activity.

At the top of her many causes is her work with the Miss Minnesota program. She has worked with the local program and has served as the Minnesota state chairperson as well. Her work at the national level will take her to Orlando in July and to the national Miss America Pageant.

She battled back from hair loss and from post-treatment depression through her Miss Minnesota obligations and running.

Nothing could stop her lifelong passion for music. She never stopped playing the piano or singing. If she gets a little depressed, she plays the piano. She uses her musical talents to lead a youth group at her church. Her family and friends always supported her. For a concert they did they designed a special shirt for her, and everyone, including their youth group, wore it. The working on the shirt is "Keep calm and Cure on—Fight Like Gina."

Gina has a story to tell us. She emphatically says, "God has given me cancer so I can teach others. Develop relationships and don't give up. Win! Don't just survive."

There is much more each has to tell about how they have fought back and conquered cancer. On Friday night, July 13, at the East Otter Tail Relay For Life, they will tell their stories at 9 p.m. before lead us the crowd into lighting the 5,000 luminaries honoring survivors and remembering those whose lives have been taken by cancer.

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