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Students support classmate who survived cancer

Cancer survivor Valoree Stevenson (left) and classmate Megan Thurk, both of Lakefield, sit at a table in Southwest Star Concept High School, Okabena.

OKABENA -- Southwest Star Concept students will honor classmate and cancer survivor Valoree Stevenson while raising money to combat childhood cancer through a sponsored walk Saturday.

Local businesses have agreed to donate money to cancer-fighting charity Alex's Lemonade Stand for each mile participants walk as part of the Team Lemon Walk.

"(The walk) is for a really good cause," said Megan Thurk, 17, of Lakefield, part of the Learning to Give class at SCC that organized the walk. "Even within our county there are people who have cancer. If we could find a cure, there would be so many people who wouldn't have to suffer."

One of those people is SSC junior Stevenson, 16, daughter of Keith and Karolyn Stevenson of Lakefield, who finished her final round of chemotherapy three weeks before school began.

Stevenson's experience with cancer began when she believed she was gaining weight. Then she started feeling exhausted every day and couldn't shake the feeling. After an X-ray and then a CAT scan, medical professionals figured out the problem: a 10-pound tumor on Stevenson's ovary.

They found the tumor on a Friday and scheduled surgery to remove the tumor for the following Tuesday -- there was no time to waste.

After the surgery, Stevenson and her family learned she would have to go through chemotherapy, because the tumor had spilled liquid throughout her body, which could have spread the cancer.

She had four sessions of chemotherapy in St. Paul, and when she finished, doctors told her she would be able to go to school in the fall. The ordeal lasted from the third week of May until August.

"It's definitely been a really big experience," Stevenson said. "I think I handled it pretty well. Sometimes I just had to cry."

Having cancer may have changed the way some people see her, but only a little bit.

"My family, they tell me, 'I knew you were strong, but I didn't know you were that strong,'" Stevenson said.

As far as her medical team can tell, Stevenson's cancer is gone. She'll have to return for checkups every month, and her hair is still in the process of growing back after the chemotherapy.

"Some people don't know what to say. They're afraid they'll say something wrong, but they can ask questions, and I won't get upset," Stevenson said. "They kind of tiptoe around the cancer part."

Stevenson's classmates have rallied around her.

Chris Elzenga's Learning to Give class, which focuses on raising money for a chosen charity, was inspired by Stevenson to raise money for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a charity founded by Alex Scott.

Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before her first birthday and died at age 8, but only after she had personally raised $2,000 through a lemonade stand and inspired others to raise more than $1 million, all for cancer research.

The 21 students in Elzenga's class have organized Saturday's Team Lemon Walk to raise money for Alex's Lemonade Stand.

In addition to the donations businesses have agreed to make for each mile walked Saturday, the Learning to Give students will sell lemonade and T-shirts to benefit children's cancer research.

"Our community can get together and raise money for a really good cause and help somebody from our own community," Thurk said.

Registration for the walk will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the Southwest Star Concept Elementary School in Heron Lake.

A second fundraiser, the SSC Make a Difference Day, will be 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 24 at Heron Lake Elementary School, and will include a garage sale, bake sale, pancake feed and kids' activities. Food shelf donations will also be taken.