Archived Story

‘Paint the Town Purple’ next week [UPDATED]

Published 5:49am Monday, June 16, 2014 Updated 7:56am Monday, June 16, 2014

Held in conjunction with annual FF Relay for Life walk

This year’s Relay for Life walk will be slightly different, according to organizer Darla Jacobson, in that it will run from 3 p.m. Friday, June 20 through 3 a.m. Saturday, June 21. The Lions pork chop dinner will begin at 4:30 p.m. All events are at M State-Fergus Falls.

“We have some great entertainment lined up throughout the night, too,” Jacobson said.

She is also encouraging all businesses to participate in Paint the Town Purple during relay week, June 16 through 20. Kits are available at the Chamber office or Security State Bank.

The Relay for Life walk is a community event designed to raise awareness and fight back against cancer.

It also is an opportunity to celebrate survivors’ battle and honor those who have died from the disease.

This year’s honorary chairwomen and honorary caregiver are Amanda Sem, Sara Piekarski and Kristi Sem.

Here are their stories.



Kristi Sem
Kristi Sem

, caregiver

Kristi Sem, of Underwood, is this year’s Relay for Life honored caregiver. She is taking care of her daughter, Amanda, who was diagnosed with a rare heart cancer and has had open-heart surgery to remove the tumors.

“Wow, I never thought it would hit my family — first my dad, now Amanda, my daughter,” Sem said. “She is my rare child — they said 1 in 10 survive, so she is the one.

Amanda was diagnosed with sarcoma of the heart and underwent open heart surgery to remove the two tumors growing there. Then she had one year of very hard chemotherapy treatments.

“God was and is my rock,” Sem said. “I haven’t any idea how people get through this without faith. My family is such awesome support, too.”

She recommended others with a cancer diagnosis also turn to prayer.

“Pray, pray, pray,” Sem said. “Some days that’s all there is. And never ever, ever give up. God is good — all the time.”

She advised others to accept held when it’s offered — people want to help, she said.

“Whether it’s meals brought in, rides to chemo, or just a friend for company and some laughs, take advantage of your support team,” Sem said.

Sem grew up in Battle Lake on a farm with six siblings. She worked at Underwood Farm and Hardware for 11 years and for the past 25 years, has worked at Lake Region Hospital.

She loves to take photos, do wood scrolling, and enjoys the outdoors with family.


Amanda Sem
Amanda Sem

, survivor

Amanda Sem grew up in rural Underwood with her parents and an older brother. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Child Welfare, and worked in Special Needs Adoptions following graduation.

At the age of 25, she was diagnosed with a cardiac sarcoma after two tumors were removed from the left atrium of her heart.

The statistics for this rare form of cancer were dim — Sem was told she had perhaps a 10 percent chance of surviving, and more likely would survive only 6 to 12 months. She completed 12 months of aggressive chemotherapy.

Her cancer has returned and she and her doctors continue to look at alternative treatments, she said. “Hearing those words, ‘you have cancer,’ and every moment thereafter often feels surreal to me,” Sem said. “I need to remind myself at times that this is my reality.

She, too, has called upon her faith and dependence on God, and the support of her friends, family and the community, to help her cope.

“I believe (God) has a plan for me and that I need not worry,” she said. “While I fail at that often, I can always come home to his grace, and that has saved me.”

Sem doesn’t understand why God allows things such as this disease to touch people’s lives.

“But what I do know — with more certainty each day — is that He will bring good from it,” she said. “Walk each day with that knowledge. Take it one day at a time.”

Sem also encourages people to listen to their bodies and trust their instincts, adding its important to ask a lot of questions and play an active role in the medical plan.

Like her mother, Kristi, she said to accept help from people, and talk to other survivors.

“But above all, if you don’t know the God of the Bible — He is where to start,” she said. “He knows the answers to all of our questions and He will direct your steps.”

Sem has been working as a preschool teacher at a daycare in Fergus Falls since completing her cancer treatment. She enjoys cooking, working with kids and spending time with her family.


Sara Piekarski, survivor

Sara Piekarski
Sara Piekarski

Sara Piekarski grew up in Fergus Falls, graduating from Fergus Falls Senior High. She graduated from the University of North Dakota and managed the AmericInn for eight years before she became the director of marketing for Discover Lodging management company, a position she has held for more than three years.

At the age of 31, Piekarski wasI diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her treatment plan included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a year of Herceptin, she had a bi-lateral mastectomy, five weeks of radiation and reconstructive surgeries.

Upon hearing a cancer diagnosis, she was stunned.

“I cried for a minute, then pulled up my chair and asked ‘how do I fight this?’” she said. “It was a long drawn-out battle, with complication after complication, but today I’m five years out and am a pink warrior surviver!”

Her upbeat attitude was important, she said.

“Keeping a positive attitude has made a significant impact on my recovery,” Piekarski said.  “Surrounding myself with strong supporters (Caring Bridge, Facebook and church). But ultimately I believe it was the prayers that did the most, I felt wrapped in prayer.

She would tell people that they have two choices, she said: You can let cancer have you, or you can have cancer.

“Try to keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with uplifting people, music, reading, movies, etc.,” Piekarski said. “Never give up.”

She has a 12-year-old son, Greysm and enjoys church activities and involvement in Young Life and Jaycees.

She serves on the Fergus Falls Convention and Visitors Board as well as the Fergus Area College Foundation Board.


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