Cruisin' for cancer
ADRIAN -- When it comes to cancer, Regan Roloff knows all about the fight -- the power of chemo drugs, the skill of doctors and the support of family and friends.
She also knows that the world doesn't stop for cancer. Mortgage payments still need to be made, medical expenses mount, and the cost of motel stays and gasoline to get from one appointment to the next add up.
Regan said paying the bills would have been difficult had it not been for two community fundraisers last fall -- one in Lismore and another in the Twin Cities neighborhood where she grew up -- while she was in the midst of treatment.
Now, Regan and her husband, Lonnie, are working to establish a foundation to make the cancer journey a little less stressful for other Nobles County residents.
On June 9, the Roloffs have organized their first-ever Cruise for Cancer, which they plan to make an annual event. The fundraiser motorcycle and vehicle ride will begin with 1 p.m. registration at The Crystal steakhouse in Adrian, with the ride to depart at 2 p.m. Stops are planned at Devil's Gulch near Garretson, S.D., and at Grand Falls Casino near Larchwood, Iowa, before returning to The Crystal for a 6 p.m. hog roast supper.
All proceeds from the run and hog roast will go toward the Cancer Doesn't Discriminate organization the Roloffs have established.
People may take part in the ride or, if they wish, just the meal. Pre-registration is accepted online at www.cancerdoesntdiscriminate.org.
On Father's Day weekend in 2011, Regan completed her shift as a dispatcher at Prairie Justice Center and was on her way to meet up with friends at the campground in Adrian when she experienced severe stomach pains.
It is typically her job to dispatch an ambulance for someone in need, but never had she thought she would need to make that 911 call for herself -- not at age 32.
Doctors performed emergency surgery for Regan's perforated ulcer and notified her a week later that tests revealed Stage 3 or 4 stomach cancer.
"They didn't know if there was anything they could do for me," she recalled.
The Roloffs sought out a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
"They had me between Stage 2 and 3 and had a treatment program ready for me," she said. "Within a week, I started chemo. My first treatment was a week before our wedding."
She began a twice-daily regimen of chemo pills and had her first rounds of intravenous chemotherapy injections slated for July, August and September at the Mayo Clinic -- a six-hour drive, round-trip.
"It was not the way we thought we'd be starting our married life," Regan said.
As she began her treatment, Regan heard about the American Cancer Society's program to provide gas cards to help patients cover the cost of traveling to their appointments.
"I got denied because I didn't go to treatment enough -- I only went every three weeks," Regan said. "We understand that they have to have a specific set of rules, but because of that we've decided we don't want to have rules. We want to be able to help people out no matter how often they have to go to treatment. In our area, you have to typically drive somewhere to get treatment for cancer."
Regan had surgery on Oct. 3, with doctors removing approximately 80 percent of her stomach. She wrapped up her chemo treatments in January and, while doctors can't technically say she's cancer-free until she's reached the five-year mark, she has no more signs of tumors.
As part of her follow-up, Regan returns to the Mayo Clinic for a checkup every three months -- each stay requiring gas money and an overnight hotel.
"It's a very difficult cancer to detect," she said, adding that in addition to blood work, doctors perform a chest X-ray and CT scan of her abdomen.
While the Roloffs are fortunate enough to have insurance, they realize that others may not be in a similar position. By establishing the Cancer Doesn't Discriminate foundation, they hope to help others cover some of those costs insurance doesn't cover. At first, their focus is to provide gas cards to those cancer patients in need, but as the foundation grows, the hope is to expand it to grocery gift cards or help to cover the electric bill.
"Some people don't have insurance, some people can't work," she said. "It can be financially grueling going through (cancer)."
Regan said her goal for the June 9 Cruise for Cancer is to raise at least $1,000.
"I want the first event to put us in that good position of being ready to help somebody," she said. "I want to say $1,000 would be fantastic -- that would just be unbelievable."
Regan said the fundraisers conducted in her honor last fall proved just how giving people are.
"That's another reason I want to give back," she said. "It just impresses me how small communities come together for things like that."
Those who would like to donate to Cancer Doesn't Discriminate and won't be able to attend the ride or hog roast may donate online at www.cancerdoesntdiscriminate.org with the secure Paypal program, or mail donations to Cancer Doesn't Discriminate, 409 Third St. W., Adrian 56110.
For cancer patients seeking assistance through Cancer Doesn't Discriminate, an online contact form is available on their website, while those without Internet access may call the Roloffs at (507) 827-2697.
At this time, the Roloffs will determine how much money they can allot to those in need, but the goal is to eventually have a board of directors to make those decisions.
"We are working toward non-profit (status)," Regan said. "We don't want to make this difficult -- we want to make this an easy process for them if they need a gas card. It's not an easy time to be going through stuff like this. We'll make this as easy as possible."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.