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Kick-off event ignites interest in 3rd annual Relay For Life of BV-Garretson
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

March 18. 2014 10:21AM
Sarah Olson said giving 10 percent of her time to a worthy cause is time well spent.

She solidified those thoughts after learning of Kevin Van Malsen’s survivor cancer story last week.

“He was given a 10 percent chance of survival, so I should be able to give 10 percent of my time to help,” Olson said.

Olson is a co-chairperson of the third annual Relay for Life of Brandon Valley-Garretson. This year’s event is planned from 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday, June 6 at the BVHS athletic complex. The event, which has traditionally carried on through the night, is being condensed into six hours this year, Olson said.

“We hope people will stay for a while and learn about all the programs we do so they can understand the true meaning of Relay For Life,” she said, eluding to the opening and closing ceremonies, lighting of the luminarias and more.

Last week, Relay For Life volunteers from Brandon, Valley Springs and Garretson hosted a kick-off event at the Brandon Pizza Ranch, where the first team registered for the June event.

Van Malsen, 54, of Hills, Minn., learned about the kick-off event from a postcard that was mailed to him and other area cancer survivors. He’d taken part in prior Sioux Falls-hosted Relay For Life events, he said. “But I’m going to try to be a part of this one this summer,” he said. “I think it’s something pretty important, pretty big, and like the theme says, 'It’s a celebration of life.' "

And that’s just Van Malsen’s outlook each day.

“Every day is a celebration of life. Every day is important; it’s not to be taken for granted,” he said.

Van Malsen, a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with liver and spleen cancer on Nov. 5, 2003. The date comes quickly to his mind, he says.

“That’s something you don’t forget,” he said.

Since his diagnosis just over a decade ago, life has changed for Van Malsen. He no longer works and relies on Social Security Disability, after being denied three times while undergoing chemotherapy. It was his doctors that eventually got him the financial help.

“I can do a lot of things yet but if I had a job, I could lose it so easily because of my health,” he said. “So this is where I’m at with life. I think life is good for me because I can do some things but I get winded easy.”

That weakness itself wears on him doing even some of the simplest things, such as writing out checks to pay bills or grocery shopping, he says. “That all wears on me,” he said. “But I’m in remission, going on 10 years, and the lasting issue is my lack of an immune system.”

Early on in his treatment, doctors told Van Malsen that he had three months to live if he didn’t move on to the next course of treatment of stem cell replacement. The process of harvesting his cells began in August of 2004.

“During that time they ended up wiping out the rest of my stem cells,” he said. “I was basically ‘dead’ inside.”

Presently, Van Malsen undergoes costly IVIG infusions once a month. “They are going to try and give me the summer off,” he informs. “But the doctor says they could be indefinite.”

Van Malsen is just one of the many reasons that Olson and others volunteer their time and talents to the local Relay For Life event.

“Hearing his story really rings true to me why we volunteer our time to do this,” she said.
TO REGISTER
To get signed up or learn more about Relay For Life of Brandon Valley-Garretson, go to www.RelayForLife.org/BrandonValleySD. You may register as a team or as an individual





The survivors begin their lap of celebration at the 2013 Relay For Life of Brandon Valley-Garretson. This year's event will be held Friday, June 6. Challenger file photo



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