Before being diagnosed with cancer, Mickey Belanger admits she was unaware of what the Community Cancer Walk was.
Now, the newly-announced cancer survivor said the program eased financial stress, and she wants to spread the word.
“The ladies who go out and organize this walk... they’re amazing,” Belanger said. “They know from experience what things are going to help. Something as simple as a gas card offers a world of relief.”
The annual walk, scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Oct. 5 at Rainy River Community College, raises money to contribute to the local gas card program. The program provides gas cards for cancer patients traveling out of the community for treatment.
“We had about $500 in gas cards and that’s what we used to go back and forth to Mayo before our long-term stay this spring,” Belanger said. “It was a lot of trips... The gas cards got us all the way to June 6 – my 100 day checkup – right on the nose.”
Road to remission
The road to remission was long and started nearly three years ago.
Belanger, owner of Oh 4 Sweet Catering, was diagnosed with Stage 3 follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2016. Various tests and chemotherapy quickly followed the diagnosis.
“Luckily for us, we have a department here at our hospital... and I was able to have chemo here,” she said of Rainy Lake Medical Center.
Unfortunately, she said, the first round of chemotherapy didn’t work and Belanger started a different pattern of treatments. Those, too, weren’t living up to expectations.
“At that point, we started on a test drug,” she said. “However, whatever happened in my system... I ended up with an aggressive lymphoma.”
Belanger went from having what she called a lazy cancer to a more aggressive kind. Doctors sent her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“Now we’re talking about more than just the occasional trip to Virginia or Duluth,” she said. “Now, we were looking at some real distance... This is when things started getting really expensive.”
The Community Cancer Walk has been so successful over the years that organizers have been able to increase the cards given away to patients from $150 to $200.
Belanger’s eligibility for gas cards made a difficult time easier.
“When Rochester became our second home, it came to the point where I wasn’t working anymore,” Belanger said. “(My husband) Bob and I are modest people, we don’t live outside our means... Everything just adds up really fast.”
From February to March, the Belangers lived in Rochester while Mickey underwent a stem cell transplant accompanied by dozens of appointments and procedures.
“It’s been quite the year.” she said.
On June 6, Belanger was officially declared cancer free, and she said she is so grateful to the community that rallied around her.
“We live in such a generous community,” she said. “It’s important for people to know how much their donations to this program really help people like me.”
Looking forward to the rest of the year, Belanger does most of her follow-up appointments locally, but will have to take a few more out-of-town trips in the upcoming months.
“They have to keep watching me,” she said of doctors. “This is my new normal... If I can do any good for anybody, it’s telling them about this program and this event. It really meant so much to Bob and I. It really helps people.”