This year, it's a mother and daughter, Marj Pytleski of Gruver and Kay Dahl of Estherville, who are the 2013 Emmet County Relay for Life honorary cancer survivors.
It was Kay who was first diagnosed in June 2010. She noticed a lump that she could see and feel but that had gone undetected by a mammogram. So she went in for an ultrasound and the cancer was detected.
"You have to do self-exams and be aware," Kay said in afterthought. If she had gone another year until her next mammogram the cancer would have spread.
The 2013 Emmet County Relay for Life honorary cancer survivors are mother and daughter Marj Pytleski and Kay Dahl.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
She underwent a lumpectomy and 36 radiation treatments, the worst being "just the stress of it, knowing what you had."
For Marj, it was a mammogram that detected her cancer July 26, 2010 - just a month later than her daughter learned she had cancer. She received a call the next day, and underwent a lumpectomy for her ductal carcinoma. A port was installed for her chemotherapy that started
Sept. 24, 2010. She underwent chemotherapy for a year, until September 2011, and 18 radiation sessions.
Marj said chemotherapy was the hardest part of her treatment, and while she took medicine for her nausea, she lost all her hair.
"I wanted it dark and curly but it came back gray and straight," she joked. Another side effect was her lack of energy.
Marj continues with yearly mammograms, and had a clean bill from her oncologist Dr. Amy Krei two weeks ago in Sioux Falls, S.D. - the same doctor Kay had.
Cancer runs in the family. Marj said her grandmother had breast cancer in the 1920s and died at age 48. And her husband died of acute leukemia in 1971 at age 35. Her son Jeffrey died of renal cancer in 2006.
"You've got to be on top of it," Marj said of knowing one's family cancer history.
Still, Marj takes solace in the fact that there have been 20 million cancer survivors in the US since the 1970s.
"I can't believe it. It's just wonderful," Marj said of all who have survived.
"We had wonderful support," Marj said of both her and Kay. "We should thank all our friends and relatives."
Kay said her employer, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, was very understanding about letting her take time off, and Marj said the doctors and nurses were wonderful. Kay said the Emmet County Relay for Life and Ladies Night Out both donated money as well.
Kay's advice is that people should know their bodies. "Always be forthcoming with your doctor. Be honest with how you feel," she said.
Marj said Kay was very positive about her treatment, and Kay said being active helped as well.
So what does this mother-daughter cancer survivor duo think about the Relay for Life coming up Saturday?
"I'm excited to give a survivor's story," Kay said, adding that she wants to get the word out that early detection is the best protection.
"Only you know what your body is doing," said Marj.
"Make sure you have humor. Laughter makes things a lot better - brighter," said Kay.
"Right now I feel the best I have for two years," said Marj.